No Delay in Works for Exporters’ SOLAS Requirement

February 22, 2016

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) says it will not delay implementation of the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) amendment that will require exporters to provide a signed and certified document verifying the weight of the containers that they use to ship their exports. The requirement to provide the verified gross mass (VGM) of a packed container will go into effect on July 1, 2016 in the United States, even though the USCG has the option to delay implementation for up to a year.

The USCG position was announced after a listening session for stakeholders hosted by the Federal Maritime Commission. According to Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, delaying the requirement would “send the wrong message” to foreign flag cargo ships. A delay for the new SOLAS requirement would signal that it is not safe to load cargo in the United States, he said.

SOLAS Hearing at FMC, Feb. 18, 2016

At the listening session, agricultural exporters warned the USCG of costly delays and liabilities the VGM data requirement will cause U.S. exporters. Perry Bourne of Tyson Foods says it cost his company up to 5 million dollars a year.  Exporters argued that there currently is no standardization for the VGM data in the U.S., nor in any of the 162 signatory nations to the SOLAS convention. The VGM represents an extra data field and an entirely new database for exporters. Given that less than 5 months remain before enforcement begins, exporters asked for additional time to prepare. The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) adopted the new requirement at its 94th session in November, 2015. It was put in place to help prevent accidents at sea caused by overweight containers.

The USCG says there needs to be a business practice solution to the problems caused by the new requirement, but not a delay in enforcement. Admiral Thomas said carriers and shippers should negotiate on how to meet the July 1 deadline.

The USCG added that there will be no penalties involved in enforcing the SOLAS requirement, but containers without the proper VGM documentation will not be loaded onto ships until the VGM can be determined, and ships will leave on time with or without the containers in question.

AAEI has created a webpage devoted to information about the SOLAS requirement, and the AAEI Export Compliance and Facilitation Committee has formed a work group to work on the issue and help inform the exporting community. The work group also is working on setting up a webinar for AAEI members on SOLAS.