Overweight container problem on international agenda

Australia in push for action on issue that has huge safety implications

By Rob McKay | May 30, 2011

Australia has helped put the issue of misdeclared shipping container weights firmly on the international regulatory agenda.

Australia, along with the Netherlands and Denmark, gained acceptance of the issue that has safety impacts through out the supply chain, not least for trucking, by the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The IMO is the United Nations-affiliated body that deals with shipping matters.

"We’re delighted with that, we realise it will be a long process but, under Chain of Responsibility, we need it," Victorian Transport Association Chief Executive Phil Lovel says.

Overweight containers can put serious pressure on truck brakes and suspension.

They have been known to cause grabbing failure that causes containers to fall from cranes in docks.

"The World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) jointly urged the IMO in December to establish an international legal requirement that all loaded containers be weighed at the marine port facility before stowage aboard a vessel for export," the two shipping bodies say.

"Verification of actual container weight before vessel loading and the availability of the actual container weights for proper and safe stowage planning will mark a long overdue and important improvement in industry safety."

They added that "the problem will not be solved until there is a legal requirement to verify container weights before containers are loaded onto ships.

"In those countries that require loaded containers to be weighed before vessel stowage for export, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that operations can proceed very efficiently without any disruption to commerce.

"The shipping industry is optimistic that the IMO’s decision to making this an international requirement will save lives, reduce cargo losses, and improve operational efficiency for all concerned."

Lovel noted pressure for government authorities to put weighbridges in ports but believed there were issues of delay and related congestion that would have to be solved first.

However, the move was welcome all the same.

"It’s a huge problem for us under Chain of Responsibility," Lovel says.

"It ends up with the truck driver being fined and the transport company being fined.

"It’s a big safety issue."

The point about weighbridges was raised in March by the New South Wales Road and Transport Authority (RTA) but this encountered resistance from shipowner representative body Shipping Australia Ltd (SAL).

"The RTA is strongly indicating to our stevedores that the only acceptable solution to comply with the Chain of Responsibility legislation is to build static weighbridges at their Port Botany terminals, which is not in conformity with the Act," SAL Chief Executive Llew Russell said.

"This costly, labour intensive solution will lead to severe supply chain disruption and not necessarily safer roads.

"Whilst all stakeholders want to work towards safer roads as a matter of urgency, this solution will not necessarily lead to better safety outcomes."

SAL advocates weigh-in-motion systems at terminal gates with access to a static weighbridge in the port area if trucks exceeded the gross or axle weight limits.

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