IMO approves compromise proposal for weighing containers

Monday, 14 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) convention (when international cargo is moved through oceans) is a hot topic today in the maritime industry as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has come with a new set of compromised rules in September 2013 to be effective in 2016. This important subject area in my opinion falls as a responsibility on all stakeholders of the supply chain providing logistics to ensure proper declarations and methodology is made to avoid various problematic situations arising out of careless and misleading declarations/handling of information, cargo and also not adhering to the best practices and thereby compromising safety and health of workers. Therefore understanding each other’s issues and compromising is the best way to resolve. The IMO “opted for a compromise position, which allows governments to either choose the gold standard of mandatory weighing or the lesser measure of certifying containers on an unformulated process of verifying the weight by adding together the different constituent parts of a container load at unspecified times and places along the transport route,” the London-based (International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has said in a recent statement. Not the end of the story Whilst welcoming the new agreement it must be highlighted that this new arrangement should not be the end of the story by only regulating the shippers (cargo owners). All service providers at large must do their part effectively. The shippers too, must take responsibility for their cargo and work in collaboration for matters that can be resolved through dialogue and compromise to facilitate the best options using modern technology. A legitimate environment for this is important at international level and the recent IMO compromised proposal by the stake holders should be treated as a move towards the right direction. The new regulation is proposed to be adopted by 2016; however, it is advisable that the shipping community be properly educated on the subject to avoid unnecessary confrontation. The global media reports that shippers have opted out to give different opinions for and against the new proposals of IMO. A large number of international organisations and governments, including the Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) have welcomed the compromised proposals for weighing of containers by actively participating in the discussions. On the other hand the European Shippers’ Council (ESC) and some Asian shippers’ councils in some member countries have objected to the proposals citing that this would cause delays in the supply chain etc and may lead to cost escalation. It would be the responsibility of the GSF who has made recommendations and had conversation with parties concerned to the IMO to ensure in future that shippers across the world are not victims of a one sided compromise when and if these changes are implemented. No formal representations In my opinion, in Asia, Indian subcontinent or in Sri Lanka, this subject which was on the table for a few years, but has not been taken into agenda or for serious discussion, nor has it been taken into policy making decision at a macro level on how to agree or disagree on this matter. In fact no formal representations have been made to local governments or IMO to my knowledge through a concept paper by the shipper groups in Asia and including the Asian shippers’ Council (ASC) excluding Australia and New Zealand. It seems a knee- jerk reaction that has been put forward to the media with lack of clarity and understanding from the real Asian view. Unfortunately I also observe in global media that the global shippers’ organisations have distanced themselves from each other due to unfounded reasons and lack of dialogue and have come to a position to disagree among themselves at the cost of the community they represent and their real problems, in the recent past. As a past Chairman of the Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council (SLSC), Association of Shippers’ Councils of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka (ASCOBIPS) region and the immediate past secretary general of Asian Shippers’ Council (ASC), I feel that there has been no sovereign voice of the individual shippers’ councils in this part of the world (South, East and North Asia), giving their candid opinion on this matter, and this weakness at national level has been made use of by regional organisation to make references against the proposed changes unilaterally without hardly any consultation and discussion. This I can confirm as a shipper that represents the largest export sector in Sri Lanka, the apparel industry. The international media has already published articles question the negative sentiments of ASC and ESC position. I am frankly surprised the lack of understudying and discussion on this issue in Asia. The global media also reports that Asian governments including China, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore have been in the committee on IMO expressing views, whilst the Asian Shippers’ Council has followed the ESC and opposed the reforms. In my opinion this shows clear lack of direction from shippers in Asia as we have failed to educate either our regional governments who were represented at the IMO meetings or through proper representations directly at IMO with adequate facts and figures collectively. Ensure best practices As a shipper who has been in the industry, I have had many reservations on certain decisions that are taken by the liner industry and their poor dialogue with shippers and I still disagree with many of their arguments on freight, surcharges and terminal handling charges (THC). But as partners of the supply chain and global trade, on the container weighing issue, I feel that it is the responsibility of both parties to ensure best practices. IMO too has to make sure that shippers’ interest are not compromised at a later stage, by using this as a tool to complicate shipments and there by unethically applying undue pressures on shippers for charges and documentation, which can be a legitimate concern of the shipping community. This has to be made clear to all governments concerned when adapting any changes over the next few years. Also matters pertaining to the safety of cargo handling by the service providers should also be scrutinised as there are many mistakes made by shipping lines, consolidators, port operators and stevedoring companies when handling cargo at ships by their members as pointed out by ESC. The advice for the shippers, big or small, is that under the contract of carriage, we the shippers are liable to declare intended proper weights, measurements and counts starting even at the point of pre shipment customs declaration. This is the very reason, that when containerisation was introduced, while the shipping line provides extended gear of the ship for cargo loading, “the container” with its weight and the maximum loading capacity, etc., the shipper has to agree to clause the B/L saying “shippers load and count”. This means, the cargo owner who is loading the container is responsible for the contents of goods, and weight and measurements of it, including the packing. The global freight industry reports that 20% of the world’s trade is under/over declared and has resulted in disruptions to transport operators, ports and customs systems. Take responsibility In Asia, as the world’s manufacturing region, and China, known as the world’s factory, thousands of shippers are involved in the supplying of merchandise and in my opinion, they are responsible for their cargo, Full Container Load (FCL) or Less than Container Load (LCL) and it is their responsibility to provide accurate information through the use of modern technology, which starts from the factory floor. Giving excuses on this is not going to help global trade. I also see that from the ports’ perspective, that International Association of Ports & Harbours (IAPH) has also endorsed the new compromised proposals of IMO, where the third VP of IAPH is a Sri Lankan, none other than our Port Chairman Dr. Priyath Wickrama. Shippers in Sri Lanka will have to get ready for better documentation and to provide accurate information to systems online over the next few years as that is the Government policy with automation in Sri Lanka. [The writer is the current CEO of the Shippers Academy Colombo and a past Chairman of the Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council (SLSC), Association of Shippers’ Councils of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka (ASCOBIPS) and the immediate Past Secretary General of the Asian Shippers’ Council (ASC).]

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