Impact Of The New SOLAS VGM Amendments

The new industry amendments of the Maritime Safety Committee’s Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) amendment which requires shippers to include a Verify the Gross Mass (VGM) has come into effect since 1 July 2016.

So far the implementation of the regulation seems fairly smooth according to feedback from industry.  This success is largely due to the campaigning of third party logistics providers in educating their customers and shippers.

However, there still seems to be some confusion in the industry around how the changes will play out as has only been in effect for a few weeks.  For example, it was announced that the amendment would include a grace period that would run from July to October. This was to account for containers that were already in transit. However, some shippers have taken this to mean that there will be a more forgiving aspect of the amendment over this period. Enforcement of the amendment is to be undertaken by local authorities who are governed by their own laws and regulations which means that overall shippers cannot assume that the grace period or other aspects that may be open to interpretation will be managed by all countries in the same way.

Though it sounds simple, the actual practicalities involved in implementing the new amendment can be quite significant for shippers who have not had previously comply with the exacting and precise steps involved.  For example, the VGM is very specific in the measurement tools to be used and exacting in the process of calculation.

The consequences for companies, should they not meet the new amendment is quite significant as it will result in container loading being denied.  This disruption will bring great pain to markets, for example, the fashion industry that is seasonal. Another negative implication will be the enormous costs that be incurred from needing to store and transport the delayed container.

So far there have been some complaints about the extra fees and costs by shippers and industry bodies. It will be interesting to see how these new charges are managed.  The goals, long term are that these changes will lead to a much safer and ultimately more efficient and cost-effective shipping industry. The amendment is aimed at improving the accuracy and process that will reduce damaged stock, re-stows and an acceleration in dispatch.   It will also upgrade and bring the industry as a whole up to date with technology as the VGM needs to be submitted before loading.

Most importantly it is hoped that there will improve the safety of crews and vessels at sea.  It is no surprise then, with recent tragedies like the Cost Concordia still fresh in our minds that the industry is pulling together to make sure the change process involved is a success.

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