As we talk with Members and the local industry professionals from the Container industry, there is huge concern for supply chain disruptions as a large uncertainty remains about the way the rules may be enforced.
There seem to be two main issues that the Members are facing in enforcing this change :
The answer for both these issues need to be understood from the part of both the Carriers of the containers ( Shipping lines) and Port states ( who have signed on to SOLAS).
If the cargo is to be loaded without the VGM data:
The first part of the question is relatively easy to determine as the Amendments have made the declaration of VGM Mandatory. As a result, most Carriers have implemented policies which clearly state that a container without a VGM declaration would not be loaded on their vessel. The effort here seems to be directed into educating the shippers and in making the declaration of VGM as painless and easy as possible for the Shipper. Similarly most Port states who have released any policy documents on the matter have stated similar intentions.
VGM Discrepancy :
The question about how the containers will be dealt with in case of discrepancy in the stated and actual VGM is more uncertain. Carriers seem to have opted to remain silent on the issue and flag states have not yet clearly stepped forward with clear intentions. There is no obligation (under the SOLAS amendments) on either the carrier or the terminal to verify the weights of the containers to check the accuracy of the VGM declarations. As a result, the carriers would be wary of creating strict policies which may be hard to enforce in different parts of the world. Different ports may have a different policy in allowing cargos to be loaded without verifying VGM declarations. Some ports may not verify the weights at all. Other ports may verify but may allow for greater variations.
Recent Developments :
Readers operating Container vessels will be interested in some recent developments relating to the VGM regulations coming into force from 01 July 2016. The USCG has released an MSIB on the subject stating the alternative commercial agreements that it will accept between the shippers and the carriers.
Following this, the UK P&I Club has published a circular from a US law firm with an opinion on the MSIB.