The Bureau International des Containers (BIC) will be launching a pilot database of container tare weight data to provide support to stakeholders, as the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) mandatory container weight verification requirements come into effect on July 1. The new mandate from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires shippers to declare the verified gross mass (VGM) of containers before they can be loaded onto a ship.
BIC in a statement said the new Technical Characteristics Database (TCD) will provide a reliable, easy-to-access source of container tare weight data to make it easier for concerned parties to fulfil “Method 2” (adding cargo and securing material weight to the container tare weight to obtain the VGM).
Once populated, BIC’s TCD will be made accessible to shippers, forwarders, and other intermediaries as a single source for obtaining tare weight, eliminating the need to either visit multiple websites or check the door of each container for the data.
BIC said the TCD will not only be available via a website, but can also be accessed via a secure application program interface (API), so that tare weight and other technical data can be automatically queried and integrated into shipper and forwarder systems. In either case, BIC said the party must provide the container number to obtain the tare weight.
For carriers and leasing companies, the database provides the automated tare weight access preferred by many shippers, without having to invest time and money in multiple integration requests or deal with requests for individual tare weights. It also simplifies any issue around tare weight arising when containers are interchanged or “swapped” between parties.
BIC said however that the TCD will not capture container location data or display the owner or user of the container—its sole focus is to return the technical characteristics of a container when queried with the container’s operational number.
“The BIC has over 2,100 container owner/operator members, of all different sizes, in 120 countries. With over 25 million containers frequently interchanging between operators, we felt that providing a central data repository was the right thing to do for the industry, both in terms of safety and efficiency,” said Bertrand Geoffray, secretary general of BIC, which was founded in 1933 under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce in 1933.
“As a non-profit, international organization supporting the container industry with multiple registration databases, the BIC is the natural entity to maintain this new database. We hope for swift uptake by the industry, as the TCD has the potential to greatly simplify the ‘Method 2’ process for shippers and significantly reduce the workload for owners and operators,” Geoffray added.
The pilot has been developed with Touax, a container leasing company, and ocean carrier Marfret, which will be the first to have tare weights available in the TCD. “We are pleased to support this initiative, which has the potential to bring efficiencies to the VGM declaration process. It may help avoid errors due to double entry and also a lot of unnecessary phone calls and e-mails,” Marfret logistics director Gilles Gallinaro said.
“While Marfret is of course prepared to deal directly with customers to provide tare weights, we feel that the industry may be better served by a central database,” Gallinaro noted.
Tire giant Michelin is also participating in the pilot scheme.
To ensure the database is best optimized to meet the industry’s needs, BIC is inviting representatives from partner industry organizations to join an advisory committee.
Beyond the immediate benefits related to VGM declarations, once fully populated, the TCD offers numerous other advantages, BIC said. Parties such as rail operators and hauliers will be able to instantly obtain container size, type, and other details using only the operational number.
BIC added that in an accident, insurers and investigators will be able to access technical details, and if owners include the manufacturer ID number, the database will become a useful tool in case of container loss, insurance claims, and recoveries.
The pilot phase, which is expected to last until the end of the year, is being provided free of charge to all parties. At its conclusion, the program will be evaluated to determine how to best proceed with a full rollout. Part of the evaluation will include how to maximize its value to the industry in terms of safety, efficiency, and cost-savings, and how to cover the database’s running costs. In any event, the TCD will be run as a stand-alone, non-profit, non-commercial service to the industry.
The minimum data elements required to participate in the TCD are the container number and tare weight, but BIC is encouraging owners to upload as many of the technical details as possible to achieve the full benefit of the database. Fleet file guidelines will be provided soon to assist those supplying data to populate the system, and once submitted, fleet files will be uploaded to the database in the order they are received.
BIC said it will publicly announce the URL and API details for the database very shortly.
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