As SOLAS deadline nears, Canada and others prepare to adapt

While there have been some requests for a later deadline for the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) container weight rules, the organization should not expect such appeals for leniency from Canada.

Bob Ballantyne, president of the Freight Management Association of Canada (FMA), said there's little chance that Canada will request a delay or soft start for the July 1 rule, according to the Journal of Commerce (JOC). There are some countries that have considered requesting that the organization push back the new regulations so that their shippers have more time to adapt. Others among the 162 signatories to SOLAS, however, plan to stick to the original deadline.

The rules were developed to improve safety. Previously, container weights were more often than not mere estimates. If the weight was off by a certain amount, it could mean danger for both maritime vessels and trucks on the road. Rather than an estimation, under the new regulations shippers will be required to provide the verified gross mass (VGM) of containers before they are moved. They will be allowed to either weigh cargo and containers separately and add the two numbers, or weigh them together.

Imprecise container weights could prove dangerous to shippers. Imprecise container weights could prove dangerous to shippers.

Challenges to SOLAS importance fuel controversy
Certain groups, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada, have noted that SOLAS container weight rules have been in place for decades, and that the new regulations change the previous requirements only slightly, according to the JOC. The only real difference is the introduction of VGM requirements and the two new weighing methods. Shippers, though, have called the new rules a substantial adjustment that will take time to adapt to.

Transport Canada has stated that it will not enforce the new rules too heavily, the media outlet reported. However, when shippers do not provide the VGM, they will be fined. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has also resisted calls from agricultural groups to push for a delay. The Coast Guard has been in contact with the IMO after Rear Adm. Paul Thomas called the new regulations a "commercial" rather than a "regulatory" matter – a statement the World Shipping Council (WSC) did not take kindly to. While the WSC prefers that all SOLAS signatories enforce the rule changes, the USCG seems to be taking a relatively lax approach to enforcement. It seems to be of the belief that shippers already comply with the new SOLAS rules.

Brazil prepared for the SOLAS deadline
Elsewhere, countries are making sure shippers are prepared for the July 1 deadline. Brazil is apparently "ahead of the game," in terms of getting ready for the rule changes to take effect. Joao Emilio Freire, executive director for Commissao Portus, a group of port associations, shippers and industry groups, said the South American country has plenty of measures already in place that will help shippers comply with the changes, according to the JOC.

"In order to comply with anti-terrorist initiatives in the U.S. and other countries all leading Brazilian container terminals have been providing much of this information for quite some time," he explained, according to the publication. "So the scanners and weighing machines are in place already."

As the SOLAS deadline nears, shippers will likely have to start implementing compliance measures, whether the changes are big or small. Despite assertions that container weighing rules have been in place for some time, the amendments to the SOLAS rules have proven controversial among shippers in many countries. Though they may not agree with the deadline or the new rules, it seems the July 1 implementation date is here to stay.