In about a month, the SOLAS Verified Gross Mass law will see its first year since taking effect on 1 July 2016. The industry has been relatively quiet, contrary to the nightmarish expectations prior to and during the law’s early stages. However, recent news reveals what the reason behind the silence might be.
According to an article from Lloyd’s List, check weighing facilities in the Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) confirmed that over 20% of the containers they received have mis-declared weights by a variance of 500 kgs, while more than 8% of boxes were mis-declared by more than a tonne.
More alarmingly, misdeclaration of import containers is worse, with over 40% mis-declared by a variance of 500kg and over 11% with a variance of over a tonne. This suggests that not only were these import containers mis-declared, they also have not been check-weighed at their ports of origin and were allowed to voyage with unsafe weight.
The industry is well aware of this implementation loophole: the absence of mandatory check-weighing procedures at terminals to finally verify the weight shown on the VGM certificate. Containers arriving with VGMs is not sufficient—there should be a final check in place to truly define accountability and compliance. Unfortunately, not all terminals have been equipped to conduct check-weighing like VICT, so the degree of non-compliance going on around the world cannot be certain.
Congestion and Fees
In the beginning, the industry anticipated paralysing congestion around public weighbridges resulting from the sudden increase of container trucks queueing for weighbridge use. This was a problem during the first few months, on top of many shippers complaining about high VGM rates in these weighing facilities.
Of course, there are other traditional weighing equipment available to use for VGM weighing, such as cranes and forklifts. Moreover, an emerging container weighing industry is developing all-new types of equipment as alternatives to large and bulky machinery shippers relied heavily on for years.
Use of Unapproved Equipment
Another blocker for these shippers could be the use of unapproved weighing equipment. While there are a lot of choices for either Method 1 or Method 2 weighing equipment, not all of them are made for the purpose of weighing containers or cargo.
The variance in the weights of these containers may come from the use of equipment not approved for VGM weighing, thus compromising weight results that resulted in the variance.
According to the legislative amendments, the weighing equipment used in determining the verified gross mass of a container must meet the measurement accuracy standards of the State it is operated in:
The scale, weighbridge, lifting equipment or other devices used to verify the gross mass of the container, in accordance with either Method No.1 or Method No.2 discussed above, should meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used.
Not Just Any Weighing Equipment
At the heart of the compliance with the new legislation is the cargo or container weighing equipment used to verify weight. Being in the export and trade industry, however, shippers and forwarders cannot use just any kind of weighing equipment—it must be of an approved type and has to be certified.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
In Australia, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is the statutory government body responsible for enforcing international maritime laws. Marine Order 42 is the Australian maritime legislation that has been revised to adopt the requirements specified in the SOLAS Verified Gross Mass law.
The Marine Order 42 – Carriage, stowage and securing of cargoes and containers was revised on June 2016, and revisions adopting the new container weight verification rule are reflected under Division 2 – Cargo Information and Weighing.
National Measurement Institute
The National Measurement Institute (NMI) is the peak measurement organisation in Australia responsible for maintaining the primary standards of measurement and biological, chemical, legal, and physical measurement. The NMI adopts the international measurement accuracy standards of the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML) for use in Australia. In 2010, the NMI became responsible for Australia’s Trade Measurement laws.
NMI’s Regulatory Role and Container Weights
NMI has regulatory responsibility for measuring instruments used for trade, and for packaged products in relation to quantity. Container weighing for the purpose ship safety (SOLAS) is not in itself a use for trade – however, where the measured weight is used for calculating freight charges, that is a use for trade. Trade-approved weighing instruments may be adopted for use to provide “verified” weights. (Source)
Recap: The 4 Approved Types of VGM Weighing Equipment
Corresponding NMI Standards for AMSA-Approved Weighing Instruments
AMSA has approved specific categories of weighing equipment that can be used for Container Weight Verification purposes, and these recognised types each have a corresponding NMI/OIML accuracy standard that it must comply with. The NMI is then responsible for the testing, pattern approval and regular inspection of weighing equipment to ensure they consistently operate within the accuracy standards expected from its type.
Weighing instruments are classified as either automatic or non-automatic.
1. Automatic catchweighing instruments
Accuracy standard: NMI R 51 / OIML R 51-1:2006 (E)
Automatic instruments follow a pre-determined program of automatic processes. Catchweighers automatically “catch the weight” of single compact loads or portions of loose material as they pass over the instrument. They are typically integrated into the internal logistics system for the items, so they have highly sensitive sensors and weighs and zeroes at high speeds to virtually take zero time weighing in the whole production process.
Variations of industrial catchweighers include:
Another allowed type are ‘on-board automatic weighing instruments mounted on or incorporated in a vehicle, intended for weighing whilst the vehicle is stationary, but which weigh automatically.‘ One example can be container conveyors integrated with weighing systems.
Automatic catchweighing instruments are essentially Method 2 weighing equipment since they weigh individual cargo prior to loading into the container.
2. Non-automatic weighing instruments
Accuracy standard: NMI R 76 / OIML R 76-1:2006 (E)
Opposite of automatic weighing instruments, non-automatic weighing devices need the intervention of an operator in order to correctly capture the weight of an item. Operators usually need to ensure the environment of the weighing job is according to procedure (i.e. levelling or orientation of the device, correctly attached, etc.)
Under the NMI/OIML R76 standard is four (4) accuracy classes that further categorise instruments according to the degree of accuracy they are capable of producing.
Equipment that fall under this category include:
Other non-automatic weighing instruments mounted on or incorporated in a vehicle
The Conweigh weighing equipment, conWEIGHr, also belongs to this category, and are verified to Class III accuracy, similar to standard weighbridges.
Non-automatic weighing instruments may be used for Method 1 or Method 2 depending on the equipment’s capacity. Forklifts, for example, vary in size. Some are big enough to lift containers, while smaller ones are fit to weigh individual cargo only.
3. Automatic rail weighbridges
Accuracy standard: NMI R 106 / OIML R 106-1:2011 (E)
There are two methods for weighing containers on rail: static and weighing-in-motion. Weighing-in-motion instruments behave much like large catchweighers for containers—they are capable of measuring the weight of containers at reduced or normal speeds. Static rail weighbridges require the container to be on full-stop to determine the weight.
4. Automatic instruments for weighing road vehicles in motion and measuring axle loads
Accuracy standard: OIML R 134-1:2006 (E)
For road applications, there are also static and weighing-in-motion automatic truck scales. These types of instruments measure the total weight of the truck by weighing on each axle (or a pair of tires). Truck scales have been in use to regulate weights of road vehicles, and now they can also be used to measure container weight.
Common Testing Procedures
In order to obtain trade approval, every manufactured weighing equipment undergoes required testing procedures for its type. Not only does weighing equipment need to be approved before it becomes operational—it needs to be regularly calibrated and verified.
In Australia, the NMI appoint Licensed Verifiers who verify that a weighing equipment maintains its accuracy and is in a condition still fit to meet the requirements of its specified class (among many other factors).
There are a large number of standard tests to ensure that various weighing equipment are able to meet accuracy requirements. These standard tests are:
1. Weighing Performance
A test to determine the indications produced are correct, across the whole range of the scale.
This test is performed by increasing weights, and then decreasing weights, ensuring the scales are accurate in both directions. Accuracy is measured in values of MPE (Maximum Permissible Error) and the testing will ensure that all critical accuracy points are measured.
This test procedure aims to check whether the weighing instrument will give a consistent result when weighing the same load. For the load to be considered consistent, the difference between the largest and the smallest reading must not exceed the MPE for the load. It is important that the instrument indication returns to zero whenever the load is removed with every repetition.
A test to determine the indications produced when the same load is placed at different positions on a load receptor of a weighing instrument.
This test is performed by placing a test load in each corner quadrant of the weighing scale in such a manner that the centre of gravity of the load is relocated towards each corner. The difference between measured weights is to be within 1 MPE.
A test to determine that the scales operate within the correct accuracy at low changes of weight.
This test is performed by adding a small amount of weight and determining that the correct increase is seen by the device.
Risks in using non-approved equipment
Compromised VGMs are not the only problems associated with unapproved equipment.
Penalty points are given to offending shippers with every inaccurate VGM submitted, and regardless of which party weighed the container, any inaccuracy found in a container VGM will be ultimately blamed on the shipper. So it is crucial for shippers to protect themselves from purchasing or utilising services that use non-certified weighing equipment. They should ask their cargo or container weighing equipment supplier, installer, or service provider to present the actual certification proving that the equipment meets the local standard.
Closing the implementation loophole
Port operators can easily conduct check weighing by utilising mobile weighing equipment. Unlike traditional equipment—which is commonly large, expensive, time-consuming and risky to install—new mobile weighing solutions like Conweigh go to the container to weigh wherever it is in the port.
Instead of sending containers to weighbridges, weighing and handling can be merged by weighing containers before transport by reach stackers, straddle carriers, or other container lifting equipment. Compact and portable weighing kits easily fit on a standard ute so the equipment is simply wheeled towards the container for a safer, faster, and optimised check weighing process.