Ocean containers subject to mandatory weighing beginning in 2016.

Photo credit: PN Tour 26Apr10 021 by Missy Schmidt, CC BY 2.0

In what is seen as a a major shift for container shipping handling processes, an International Maritime Organization (IMO) committee has voted to require that ocean containers be weighed prior to shipment beginning in July, 2016.

The change in policy comes on the heels of several catastrophic events at sea resulting in damage to, or the total loss of, several container ships including the MSC Napoli in 2007 and the Deneb in Algeciras in 2011.  Overweight containers have not been cited as a contributing factor to the recent loss of the MOL Comfort, but it is a consideration.

These losses at sea are also added to losses of life on land when containers when longshoremen have been injured or killed as well as highway deaths attributed to overweight containers in the United States.

Detractors to the policy include shipper’s groups in Asia and Europe and include claims that it will be difficult to enforce in developing countries and act as an impediment to growth.

Overweight containers, which according to a JOC article are estimated at upwards of 130 million per year, contribute to reduced carrying capacity for ocean carriers and reduced train length for railroads.  It’s not that the boxes are heavy; some accommodations can be made within a country’s legal loading requirements.  It is that the umderdeclared weight, solely as a means to save money by not shipping additional containers, contributes to inaccurate computations throughout the supply chain, reducing efficiency and opportunities for all shippers.

Misdeclared cargo weights can also be seen as a potential indicator of fraudulent activity, either by the shipper avoiding duties and taxes or a smuggler seeking to import or export illegal items or contraband.

Aircraft operators don’t weigh bags and cargo for fun; they need to know how to load and balance an aircraft.  Imagine the lawsuits if someone put too much cargo on a plane and it couldn’t take off, leading to loss of life and/or property.

In November, the IMO is widely expecting to approve the changes to the Safety of Life at Seas convention.  Shippers will be able to weigh the loaded container, or calculate the weight of the cargo and add the tare weight of the container to get the total weight.