What is SOLAS in shipping?
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime safety treaty. It ensures that ships flagged by signatory States comply with minimum safety standards in construction, equipment and operation.
Verified Gross Mass (VGM) requirements under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention
To improve safety in the supply chain, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention indicating that all shippers must comply with mandatory container weight verification requirements, or Verified Gross Mass (VGM), effective July 1, 2016.
Currently the industry is in ongoing discussions with many regulatory authorities and stakeholders to ascertain the implementation details and policies on such requirements as well as to ensure that process and system readiness for compliance is in order before the effective date.
A number of regulatory authorities have already published their guidelines and regulations to help the industry comply with the new VGM rules while some countries such as China have announced that they are in the final stages of policy development.
The fundamental elements
• “No VGM, No loading” A container without a VGM is not allowed to load onto the vessel.
• Terminals observing the SOLAS Convention and/or local regulatory requirements will reject containers at the gate if no VGM is provided. The shipper is responsible for the potential regulatory penalties and all costs associated to the exception handling of the containers without the VGM.
What is VGM?
VGM is the total gross mass of a packed container which includes the cargo weight, block & bracing materials and container tare. The SOLAS Convention offers two methods to obtain the VGM:
Method No. 1 - Weighing
Weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified weighing equipment
Method No. 2 – Calculating
The sum of the single masses = Mass of cargo items + all packages (pallets, dunnage, securing material packed in the container) + container tare weight as certified and approved by the national authorized body
1. It is inappropriate and impractical to adopt Method No. 2 for Scrap metal, unbagged grain and other cargo in bulk.
2. The container tare weight can be obtained online through respective shipping line or from the print as indicated on the container itself.
3. For GOH containers, the shipper is required to add the weight of the GOH bars if Method 2 is applied. Please follow the GOH Bars Specification with the respective shipping line.
• If a container with a gross mass exceeding its maximum permitted limit (the maximum payload) as indicated on the Safety Approval Plate under the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC), the container will NOT be loaded onto a ship even with the proper VGM documentation.
Who have to do VGM formalities?
• The responsibility for obtaining and documenting the VGM of a packed container lies with the shipper shown on the Ocean Carrier Bill of Lading.
• The shipper is responsible to provide the VGM to the ocean carrier and/or port terminal in order to meet the SOLAS and local regulatory requirements and/or specific port terminal procedures where applicable
When have to complete VGM formalities?
• The new SOLAS requirements will be effective on July 1, 2016.
• The shipper must ensure that the VGM is provided sufficiently in advance for use by the ship master and the terminal representative towards the ship stowage plan.
• The VGM CUT-OFF time will be advised in the form of a Booking Confirmation once available.
• We anticipate the VGM CUT-OFF times will vary from one country to another and it is important to observe that:
- Many national authorities are still reviewing how best to facilitate the implementation of the new SOLAS requirements in their country.
- Various ports and terminals are also reviewing the appropriate time frame by which the VGM must be received in order to allow for safe stowage planning and smooth yard operation.
Where to do VGM formalities?
• Applicable to all IMO Member States.
• Transshipment handling at the ports of IMO Member States must also have the VGM available. Shippers are requested to communicate the VGM to respective carrier before the 1st loading port to avoid any transshipment delays and costs.
How to do VGM formalities ?
• To help customers simplify the VGM Declaration carrier have offered several methods which you will have to choose which suits your needs.
• VGM should be signed by either the shipper or a person duly authorized by the shipper. Electronic or e-signatures are also acceptable.
• Implementing Guidelines issued by IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (link)
• Guidelines for Improving Safety and Implementing the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirements by World Shipping Council (WSC) (link)
• Regional Implementation information by WSC (link)
• VGM Administration Fee(s) (link)