Beachcombers, global assignments, and the SOLAS regulations update

22 June 2016

On Friday 19th January, anyone out for an early morning walk along the sandy beach at Branscombe in Devon, UK, would have been surprised to find the beach strewn with containers and their contents. The vessel MSC Napoli had begun to break up a few miles offshore during the gales the previous night, and had given up some of its contents – including expensive BMW motorbikes – many of which were immediately ‘removed’ by opportunistic local ‘beachcombers’.

The story is an example of what happens when container ships are incorrectly loaded, and this was later given as one of the reasons for the shipper’s losses (and the locals’ gain). It was also an event that underlined the importance of the new SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) regulations on container shipping that come into force from July 2016

What do the new SOLAS regulations actually mean?

Under the new legislation, any shipping container leaving from any port in the world requires a shipping document that states the verified gross mass of a container. The shipping company is not permitted to load the container until the documentation is signed (either electronically or in hard copy) because, without an accurate VGM for each container, the shipping company is unable to create a correct loading plan that balances the weight evenly according to the ship’s capacities. In this way, the new regulations decrease the chances of a repeat of the MSC Napoli incident.

SOLAS regulations update | FIDI blog

What impact does this have on global assignments?

Since many of the finer points of the legislation have not yet been confirmed, the main impact on the shipping trade is to create uncertainty. Also, while most ports have facilities for weighing containers, the cost and time to go through the process will not be fully known until the regulations have been in practice for a while.

This means that anyone shipping household goods overseas as part of their global assignment should bear in mind two pieces of advice:

  • Allow extra time (and possibly budget) for the new regulations to be met. While the costs are not directly payable by the assignee, they are likely to be reflected in increased shipping costs.
  • Use an experienced, FAIM-certified relocation company to manage your assignment. The increased complexity of the shipping rules underlines the importance of having the support of an expert partner. 

Is there anything I need to do?

Some international assignments will be unaffected, since many shipments (for example those coming from US or Canada) are already weighed as a matter of course. However, it is always worth asking your relocation partner if the new rules will affect your shipment, and whether you should allow more time or budget to compensate for them. 

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