IMO urges countries to allow initial SOLAS enforcement flexibility

Shippers, marine terminals and container lines could get some leeway in the first three months of the new SOLAS container weighing rule, after the International Maritime Organization urged its members to exercise “practical and pragmatic” policies when the rule takes effect July 1.

In addition to encouraging the 162 signatory countries to take a flexible approach to meeting the new Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, amendment, a circular approved in London Friday also details that the stability and safe operation of ships is not limited to the provision and use of information confined in the newest regulation. It’s an addition that some view as an endorsement of the U.S. Coast Guard’s approach to the regulation on an international scale.

The IMO circular explicitly states that the transition period’s aim is twofold. In the first place, it permits packed containers that are loaded on a ship before the July 1 deadline and are transshipped on or after July 1 to be shipped to their final port without a declaration of their verified gross mass, or VGM. Additionally, the transition period also will aid members states by “providing flexibility to all the stakeholders in containerized transport to refine, if necessary, procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM information.”

Although the three-month transitional period has captured the attention of most in the industry, others say they are more preoccupied by the circular’s final items — namely the addition of a statement that appears to support a recent U.S. Coast Guard declaration on the SOLAS regulation and its enforcement.

The Coast Guard on April 29 said VGM could be determined with any equipment currently used to comply with state or federal law, including the Intermodal Safe Container Transport Act and the container requirements set by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

According to the circular, “the stability and safe operation of ships, including the safe packing, handling and transport of containers, is not limited to the provision and use of VGM information and is also covered by a number of SOLAS regulations, including SOLAS regulations VI/2.1, VI/2.2 and VI/2.3, and other IMO instruments, amongst others.”

The language of the recent IMO circular, however, is not that explicit and it remains unclear if that was truly the organization’s intent.

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