End of Container Payload Scams in Sight?
Guest writer Bill Redmond returns and asks if everyone has got on board at last...
It is a pity that the old Royal Navy expression, “Get your finger out,” has seemingly been ignored at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Over two years ago this columnist warned in his report here, Container payload scams cost billions and risk lives about the need to make weighing of export shipping containers mandatory at all ports. Perhaps now, tardily, the IMO will take action following urging from the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to establish an international legal requirement for all loaded containers to be weighed before loading a vessel.
The WSC and ICS refer to the Dutch research institute MARIN’s research project, “Lashing at Sea,” and point out that the industry’s guidelines have had little discernible effect on minimising the occurrences of incorrect container weight declaration.
According to MARIN’s research there have been severe cases where the total cargo weight of a ship was 10% higher than declared. The WSC and ICS writes to IMO: “The IMO should establish a universal, international regulatory requirement that export cargo containers must be weighed by the marine terminal on receipt and before vessel loading and that the actual container weights be made available to the vessel operator and used for vessel stowage planning.”
There are, of course, no precise figures on how much revenues are lost to governments and container shipping lines every year but there can be no doubt that deliberate under declaring of container payloads costs billons of pound each year as well as risks seamen’s lives, their ships and the environment.
In 2007 there were 141 million TEUs transported by sea, or 1,272 million tonnes. MARIN’s hint of a 10% deliberate overload may be much too conservative. When the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) investigated the beaching of the container ship, MSC Napoli, on a Devon coast in 2007 it found that 20% of all on deck containers were over three tonnes heavier than their declared weights, i.e. more than 10%, and in one case the difference was 20 tonnes. Such discrepancy, said the MAIB report, “is widespread within the container ship industry and is due to many packers and shippers not having the facilities to weigh containers on their premises. It is also due to shippers deliberately under declaring containers’ weights in order to minimise import taxes calculated on cargo weight, allow the overloading of containers, and to keep declared weights within limits imposed by road and rail transportations.”
The repercussions of such callous fraud are not necessarily confined to events at sea. They could also affect inland businesses based on just-in-time deliveries. When a container crane collapsed in Southampton dock in 2007 it brought the entire Honda car plant at Swindon to a halt because deliveries of vital parts on board were delayed. Some 19 months on the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) report into the accident had still not been issued when a second container crane on the same berth, of the same make and design and subsequently altered by the same company also collapsed, with near fatal consequences. On both occasions the weather was benign and at the time overloaded containers could not be ruled out as the cause. HSE, it seems, is another organization that has trouble getting its finger out.