In response to the trade’s concerns about the new verified gross mass (VGM) requirement enacted by the International Maritime Organization, the US Coast Guard met with the Federal Maritime Commission on February 18. According to the law firm of Holland & Knight, USCG’s position is as follows:
- Delayed implementation is not an option. SOLAS is an international convention ratified by the U.S. and most major flag states that applies to vessels, not ports or shippers. Most vessels loading in the U.S. are foreign-flag ships from IMO signatory countries. Those countries will implement the VGM requirement as to their vessels, and the U.S. has no say in that.
- USCG will not impose fines under SOLAS with respect to inaccurate weight certificates because USCG does not believe it has any enforcement authority to do so.
- USCG does not plan to adopt or publish any allowable error variance.
- Regarding enforcement, USCG observes that a container without a compliant VGM certificate will be subject to a hold order and can’t be loaded, but there will be no fines. Once the container is weighed or the shipper provides a certificate, the container can be loaded.
- The ultimate message from USCG is that the shipping industry must find business solutions. USCG is not convinced it needs to or has any jurisdiction to take any steps, but will continue to listen and facilitate such solutions if possible.
As for the last point, the head of the Port of Charleston has proposed a possible solution. According to the Journal of Commerce,*
“Chris Koch, a lawyer and former CEO of the World Shipping Council, which represents container lines and helped develop the Verified Gross Mass rule, said there should be no reason why a terminal couldn’t use the container weights it currently derives through the longstanding practice of weighing containers upon arrival at the terminal. Koch is also a former general counsel of Sea-Land Service Inc. and former chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.”
Not all are in agreement. As JOC points out, the ports of Savannah and Virginia, and the Maher terminal at New York-New Jersey, say they will not offer weighing services to generate the VGM. Since the SOLAS rule assigns the responsibility for generating the VGM to the shipper on the bill of lading, some terminals are understood to be concerned about their legal liability for generating an inaccurate VGM.
According to a major container line, at least 13 U.S. terminals, including Maher, have told it that they will not accept export containers without a VGM at the time of arrival.
(*JOC site registration may be required)