Overweight Sea Containers

Shipping experts remain deeply divided on how to curb the menace of overweight shipping containers despite new proposals that make would make weighing containers mandatory.

Global Shippers Forum (GSF) secretary-general Chris Welsh told delegates at last week’s TOC Container Supply Chain conference in London that the GSF was working on an accreditation scheme for container weighing for known shippers, which he likened to the authorised economic operator model.

However, the employee representative body the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) expressed doubts about the calculation method and said it was seeking further information. In the meantime, it said that the mandatory weighing of containers was the only reliable method of verification.

False Weight Declarations

The difficulties of clamping down on false declarations of the weight and content of boxes were further underlined during a panel discussion at last week’s WISTA-UK Liverpool Forum, part of the International Festival for Business in the port city, with insurers estimating around 20% of all containers transported by sea and land are overweight.

A panel of experts addressing the WISTA-UK session gave their views in the light of draft amendments to Chapter VI of the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) convention.

Weighing Changes

The changes, proposed by the maritime safety committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), would require mandatory verification of the gross mass of containers, with shippers having to weigh either the entire loaded container, or the individual shipments and ‘dunnage’.

Bill Brassington, safety and security consultant at ETS Consulting, who advises on safety and security in the freight supply chain, said he had analysed the weight and stability of 125,000 containers ahead of the drafting of the IMO code, it appeared that 5% of them were “dangerously eccentric”, with weights of up to 80 tonnes. “There is a likelihood that a large number of containers are technically illegal.”

Given that the Eugen Maersk was stacked eight high – for the first time – the total mass when the hull was “whipped” by rough waves would create a weight of 240 tons on top of the bottom container, said Brassington. Containers are tested to comply with the IMO convention limit of 192 tonnes.

Unstable Weights

He said only a slight change was needed for a stack to become unstable, observing that on an average voyage from Hamburg to the east coast of the US, a ship will roll 186,000 times, thereby exaggerating the mass of the cargo.

Brassington referred to instances of blocks of marble being carried as cargo crashing through the bases of containers, citing an example of where one block fell through onto a barge and through the barge to the bottom of the harbour.

And he said was very easy for a truck carrying an overweight container to topple over. “Never overtake a container vehicle when it is going around a bend,” he advised.

He said weighing, as opposed to calculating, was the only way of obtaining the gross mass of a container. “Any calculation method has a degree of error. Whatever they weigh may become dry or wet, but with the right equipment weighing can be done and identify the exact centre of gravity.”

He claimed that about 1% to 1.5% of all containers were seriously overweight, and warned: “People do abuse the system even if they weigh.”