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IMO gives 3-month leeway in implementation of VGM

ID-100309355The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is allowing governments and port authorities to take a “practical and pragmatic approach” in the first three months of implementation of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) verified gross mass (VGM) policy, which takes effect on July 1.

In MSC.1/Circ.1548 issued on May 23, MSC said administrations and port state control authorities “should adopt a practical and pragmatic approach when verifying compliance with the requirements of SOLAS regulations VI/2.4 to VI/2.6, for a period of three months after 1 July 2016.”

In a separate statement, IMO explained that while the SOLAS requirements should be implemented without delay, the three-month leeway “would help ensure that containers that are loaded before 1 July 2016, but transhipped on or after 1 July 2016, reach their final port of discharge without a verified gross mass.”

At the same time, this approach would provide flexibility in the initial three months for “all stakeholders in containerized transport to refine, if necessary, procedures (e.g. updated software) for documenting, communicating and sharing electronic verified gross mass data,” said the organization.

IMO in 2014 amended Chapter VI Part A of the SOLAS that would require a shipper to indicate to the carrier or port operator the VGM of a packed container before it is loaded onto the vessel. The amendment orders that from July 1, a container without VGM data will not be allowed onboard a vessel.

IMO said MSC.1/Circ.1548 came about after the MSC’s 96th session held on May 11 to May 20, when “concerns were noted with regards to the application of the requirements to a container which was loaded before 1 July 2016 and then transhipped.”

It noted delegations’ comments at the session that, in the first few months after July 1, “some leeway should be provided in order for any problems resulting from software updates, required for the electronic collection and transmittal of verified gross mass data, to be rectified without causing delays to containers being loaded.”

The MSC also emphasized that the stability and safe operation of ships, including the safe packing, handling, and transport of containers, is not limited to just having to provide and use the VGM information, but 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, among others.

According to a recent survey by maritime consultant Drewry, there is still much confusion over how shippers and forwarders will comply with the upcoming policy. It noted that 55% of the shippers that responded to the survey said they expect delays to container shipments or cargo rolls as a result of the implementation of the policy.

On May 26, the Philippine Ports Authority met some stakeholders to finalize proposals that would implement the policy. The Cebu Port Authority, on the other hand, already has draft guidelines that were put forward in a public hearing last May 17. – Roumina Pablo


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