New Rule For Containers To Reduce Accidents

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As per the new rule, containers have to be weighed before loading onto ships.  This step, carriers say, will reduce accidents.  Underestimating Container weights has resulted in some recent maritime disasters, including the MSC Napoli, which suffered hull damage during a storm off the U.K. coast in 2007.

Retailers, manufacturers and farmers worldwide are protesting the rule as it will raise transport costs and cause delays at ports worldwide.  Carriers say accurate weights are needed because overloaded containers frequently damage cargo and even cause ships to capsize.  But shippers in many countries are still not equipped to weigh so many containers.

In a survey of shippers, carriers and others involved in global trade conducted by container booker Inttra Inc., 57% of respondents were only vaguely familiar or not aware of the rule and nearly 60% did not believe shippers would be ready by July.

“Now the industry is under time pressure to implement.  It will be very challenging.”

The conflict over the new rule shows how the shipping industry is struggling to balance safety and speed. Large ships capable of carrying as many as 20,000 containers, lower overall expenses but raise the potential cost of an accident.  A too-heavy container can crush cargo underneath, cause a stack to topple, putting the vessel in danger.

An average of nearly 1,700 containers was lost at sea annually between 2008 and 2013.

Starting in July, shippers must either weigh filled containers or add up the weight of the box and its contents.  Experts say this could make shippers liable if an incorrect weight is found to have caused damage to a ship or its cargo.  “There is serious concern that there are not even enough third-party scale providers to handle this service for the heavy container volumes,” said Beverly Altimore, executive director of the U.S. Shippers Association.

China’s Ministry of Transportation has been conducting a trial run at Shenzhen’s Yantian Port since September, an official said.  The ministry will issue regulations and guidance on the rule in the first half of next year, the official said.  The China Shippers’ Association, representing importers and exporters, has expressed concerns to the ministry that the rule would “incur additional charges and reduce efficiency to the supply chain process,” said Cai Jiaxiang, the group’s vice chairman.

Hapag-Lloyd AG, the fourth-biggest container line by volume, will leave containers that are too heavy at the docks, a spokesman said.

Terminal operators at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plan to turn away containers if they aren’t certified, said Bethann Rooney, assistant director of the Port Authority’s commerce department.

APM Terminals may offer weighing services to shippers for a fee.

Still, shippers say, ‘meeting the IMO’s standards will be difficult.  Crops such as cotton and lumber can swell in humid environments, increasing their weight’, said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.  He said his group would ask the Coast Guard for a 6% or 7% margin of error.  “Putting the entire burden on the shipper is not fair,” he said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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