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    Getting to grips with container weight

    EUROGATE gives practical tips for smooth implementation of the SOLAS amendment

    As of 1 July 2016, verification of the gross weight of a packed export container will be required before a container is loaded aboard a ship. In the following, EUROGATE has put together everything you need to take into consideration to ensure that in the future no container is left on the quayside. See also EUROGATE’s responses under “Frequently Asked Questions”.

    Uniform start for EUROGATE’s terminal locations
    The new regulation will be implemented uniformly and without exception at all container terminals in Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven with effect from 1 July 2016. This has been confirmed to us by Gunther Bonz, authorised representative of the EUROGATE Holding. He explains: “Without a verified gross mass (VGM), shipping lines will no longer be permitted to schedule containers for loading. As operators of transhipment facilities, we are required to abide by all loading prohibitions.” EUROGATE is thus complying with the requirements defined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in the amendment of the “Safety of Life at Sea Convention” (SOLAS). The amendment to the SOLAS regulation is described in detail in the Guidelines regarding the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circular 1475). (<- German language)

    Rule of thumb: weights should be submitted to the carrier one day prior to the date of loading
    For cargoes destined for loading onto large container ships such as those EUROGATE handles on a daily basis, Bonz recommends submitting the verified gross mass to the carrier sufficiently in advance to be used in the vessel planning. This information is essential for the ship’s container stowage plan, which must be completed before the vessel ties up the quayside. It is not planned to weigh containers at the EUROGATE container terminals. “A weighing procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes. This is not compatible with our processes, which are optimised for handling millions of containers,” Bonz explains. However, EUROGATE has also invested in several weighing facilities for its container packing business segment, for example at its Swop (Hamburg) or CFS (Bremerhaven) subsidiaries, which offer shippers the possibility to obtain verified weights as part of normal business activities.
    There are companies at all three German port locations that will offer container weighing facilities. As soon as these services become official, we will inform you in our blog.

    The shipper is responsible for the correctness of the SOLAS weight
    According to a survey conducted by the Hamburg-based data communications specialist DAKOSY, in many companies the weight is established at more or less the same time as the shipping instructions are made available. Legal responsibility for correctly indicating the weight lies with the shipper. In standard operating practice, the freight forwarder frequently assumes this role on behalf of the actual consignor. The shipper either submits the VGM directly to the carrier or uses the port information systems. For Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven this is dbh, for Hamburg DAKOSY. The EDIFACT structures are aligned between the two systems. Depending on whether the freight forwarder or carrier is located in Bremerhaven, Wilhelmshaven or Hamburg, the process does not generally entail transmitting different file structures. Many carriers have also created possibilities to transmit the VGM directly.
    The SMDG (User Group for Shipping Lines and Container Terminals) has also defined a specific standardised EDI interface named VERMAS for electronic transmission of the verified weight between shipper and carrier. The advantage of VERMAS is that the process of submitting the verified gross mass and supporting data is independent. It is not dedicated to a particular process step in the transport chain, explains Dirk Gladiator, authorised representative of DAKOSY. Alternatively, many shippers communicate the weight together with the shipping instructions, or via the global shipping platform INTTRA.

    Methods for obtaining the VGM: weighing or calculating
    The amended SOLAS regulations prescribe two methods by which the shipper may obtain the verified gross mass of a packed container. Method 1 requires the shipper or a third party to weigh the entire packed container using a scale that meets accuracy standard IV. Under method 2, the shipper or a third party determines the VGM by weighing all packages and cargo items, including all packaging and securing material, and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses. Where these need to be weighed, a scale meeting accuracy standard III must be used. This calculation process is subject to certification.

    Possibilities for certifying the calculation method
    If the company is already certified in accordance with the ISO quality management standard or has AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) status, it is sufficient initially to define the calculation process for weighing the containers in writing, says Thomas Crerar from the responsible authority BG Verkehr, Ship Safety Division. The process can then be subsequently certified during the company’s next regular audit. For shippers without ISO or AEO certification, Crerar says, BG Verkehr is planning to publish a procedure on the website in one or two months’ time that will be deemed as approved and certified. It can be assumed that this will only affect a small number of companies, as the above-mentioned certifications have become the generally accepted standard Germany-wide.

    Focus lies on weighing method 2
    When applying the calculation method, Crerar generally advises checking the manufacturer’s specifications by reweighing at regular intervals. Thomas Schröder, Deputy Managing Director of the Verein Hamburger Spediteure – VHSp (Hamburg Freight Forwarders’ Association) expects the majority of shippers to adopt method 2. He points out that at the Port of Hamburg (<- German language) alone some 8.5 million TEUs are handled annually. The available weighing capacities are not designed to cope with this volume.

    Deviations of up to two percent are permitted
    Deviations in the measurement may also occur, especially when using the calculation method. This may be the case, for example, if the packaging material is weighed in a dry state and later due to the weather becomes saturated with water. The formation of ice on containers can also add to the weight. To take account of these unknown factors, Crerar explains, tolerances of around two percent are deemed acceptable.

    The SOLAS amendment is not an end in itself, but relates to the safety of ships at sea
    What is important to Crerar is that the rule is not an end in itself: “It’s not a question of determining the weight down to the last gram. We need the correct weight as a basis for the stowage plan, which helps to ensure that ships sail the seas safely.” After all, misdeclaring the gross mass of a packed container can lead to incorrect vessel stowage.

    Find out more
    History of the international minimum standard for safety on board merchant ships (link here) introduced as a reaction to the sinking of the Titanic.