Most shippers are unprepared for July’s VGM rules

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On July 1, new global regulations will be implemented requiring shippers and forwarders to weigh containers before loading them onto ships. However, preparing for the new rule has proven problematic.

A survey conducted by Inttra, an oceanic shipping e-marketplace, found that most shippers and forwarders aren't – and won't be – ready for the SOLAS verified gross mass (VGM) regulations. Of the 410 Inttra customers asked about the upcoming rules, 48 percent indicated they had doubts about whether they would be ready for the container weighing regulations. Another 10 percent told the e-marketplace they would not be prepared for the roll-out of the new rules. Under a third of the respondents, 30 percent, stated that they would be prepared for the changes.

Pending VGM regulations could disrupt normal processes
The International Maritime Organization decided to implement container weighing regulations, which come in the form of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, to improve safety. Misstatement of container weights can prove dangerous, not only when moving cargo on ships but also in ports and on highways. Although meant as a safety precaution, many shippers have noted the new rules could disrupt normal processes.

"Misstatement of container weights can prove dangerous."

In fact, 66 percent of respondents to the Inttra survey noted that the new rules could cause moderate or major disruptions. Many shippers and forwarders will have to alter business practices to comply with the new rules come July. Parties involved must come to an agreement on when the weight certificate should be provided, for example, according to the Journal of Commerce (JOC). Timing it just right can be a difficult prospect.

"Things like these are part of the business processes, and they have a lot of impact on how shippers and forwarders and carriers and terminal operators structure their work," Inna Kuznetsova, president of Inttra Marketplace, told the JOC.

Electronic messaging could be shipping professionals' savior
She added that companies that use fax or phone calls for shipping documentation could have trouble adjusting to the new rules. Inttra has launched an initiative aimed at standardizing documentation to assist shippers and forwarders with adapting to the new rules. It is called eVGM, and consists of various companies and online discussion boards aimed at helping shippers and forwarders transition over to an electronic means of documentation, to make compliance with the new regulations easier. John Clark, vice president of BDP International, explained to the JOC that an electronic solution is necessary to adapt to the July VGM regulations without being hindered by costly changes to normal business processes. If shippers and forwarders do not make the necessary changes prior to the July deadline, Kuznetsova noted the industry could experience issues on a mass scale.

Electronic messaging is expected to help shipping professionals adapt to the July VGM rules. Electronic messaging is expected to help shipping professionals adapt to the July VGM rules.

"Some have said that SOLAS VGM could be to the ocean shipping industry what Y2K was to the broader business world," Kuznetsova told the JOC. "These survey results are consistent with that, as they reflect concerns over potential disruption and lack of preparedness. We believe that coordinated action can facilitate a smooth transition."

Smooth transition essentially means switching to electronic messaging from fax and phone calls when it comes to shipping documentation. This should make it easier for shippers and forwarders to communicate container weights, and do so at the right time. For now, though, the majority of shipping professionals remain skeptical about their preparedness for the July VGM regulations.