The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) assured shippers and exporters there is no need to worry about the implementation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) verified gross mass (VGM) policy as long as they don’t overload their containers.
Amendments to SOLAS’ Chapter VI Part A, which requires a shipper to indicate to the carrier or port operator the VGM of a packed export container before it is loaded onto the vessel, came into effect globally on July 1.
During the PPA SOLAS VGM Forum on June 28 organized by the Philippine International Seafreight Forwarders Association and PortCalls, PPA concurrent manager of Terminal Management Office-Pasig and Technical Services Division engineer Nestor Tayamen pointed out that the PPA and shippers have long been doing mandatory weighing of containers and roll-on/roll-off vehicles, and that the only difference now is that the terminal has to submit the VGM to the carrier.
Tayamen also noted that the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) issued a circular last May advising government agencies and port authorities to take a “practical and pragmatic approach” in enforcing the requirement, giving governments a three-month “trial and error period” to allow for changes in the local policy, if needed.
PPA through Administrative Order (AO) No. 04-2016 affirmed that all weighbridge operators—terminal operators, cargo handling operators, and independent weighbridge operators—inside the port are to be the official source of information for the VGM of packed containers.
Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) president Patrick Ronas, during the same forum, said that although the SOLAS requirement is a worldwide policy that requires the shipper to submit the VGM to the carrier, “the control will rest on the national level, with the national government” and in the country’s case, the PPA’s.
He noted AO No. 04-2016 actually makes compliance easier for shippers and exporters, since the weighing of containers and transmission of VGM to carriers will be the responsibility of terminal operators.
Ronas suggested that stakeholders instruct their truckers to keep weighing tickets issued by terminal operators in case additional documentation is needed.
He also clarified that the weight indicated in the bill of lading (B/L) is different from the VGM. The B/L only shows the cargo weight, while the VGM includes both the cargo’s and container’s weight.
PPA’s rule does not specify a weight discrepancy tolerance level; the decision on what to do with overloading is left with the shippers and their carriers. “Any action regarding an overloaded container shall be the result of a business decision between the shipper and the carrier, and handling thereof should be subject to the rules and regulations of the authority,” PPA AO 04-2016 said.
Ronas noted that overloaded containers are an infrequent occurrence though, his last encounter with one being three years ago. Port operator Asian Terminals Inc (ATI) marketing manager Reginald Rivera said overweight containers also rarely occur at their terminal.
AISL general manager Atty. Maximino Cruz cautioned that while the terminals are now responsible for submitting the VGM to carriers, it is still the shipper’s duty to make sure their cargo is not overloaded.
Asked if shippers and exporters will be able to check if the VGM was actually submitted to carriers, ATI’s Rivera said they can verify this information on ATI’s online portal, Webtrack.
On whether terminal operators can provide space inside the port in case shippers need to re-stuff containers, Rivera said while this is worth considering, “as a terminal operator, and in order not to hamper my efficiency which is also to your best interest, I would prefer that you deliver containers that are weighted in the correct tonnage, within the capacity.”
And on apprehension that weighing of containers will take up more time, Rivera said terminal operators have long been weighing all export containers, and pointed out that even with the new policy, “there is no incremental volume that is coming in.”
In case the weight limit on the container body is no longer readable, Tayamen said shippers can check PPA AO 02-2012, as it lists the weight limit of every kind of container from a 10-footer to a 40-footer.
Meanwhile, Cruz said they have written port authorities Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, Phividec Industrial Authority, and Cebu Port Authority (CPA) to pattern their own guidelines after PPA’s “so we can have uniformity on procedures.”
Cruz said SBMA and Phividec have agreed to the suggestion, while CPA still has yet to respond. CPA has its own set of rules on the VGM promulgated though AO No. 01-2016. – Roumina Pablo