Thursday, 01 September 2016 13:02

SOLAS, VGM and the Hardwood Lumber Industry

It has been two months. On July 1st, 2016, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) began enforcing the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) act. The SOLAS act requires shippers to report the gross mass (VGM) of product that is being placed on a vessel, including container weight. The shipper is responsible for reporting the accurate VGM to the steam ship line before their VGM cut passes. If a weight is not submitted, the container will not be loaded on the intended vessel. There were many questions prior to the July 1st start date and there are many more that remain unanswered.

SOLAS-UPDATEFrom the beginning, it was unclear as to how this would work and the effect it would have on the exportation of hardwood lumber and goods from the US. Who would be reporting to who? How would they be reporting information? When was the information needed? It seemed that the questions were endless and the entire act would therefore be implemented. Some steamship lines had ironed out their procedures well before the start date, while other finished theirs just days before. It was evident that the entire process was going to be a learning curve for everyone in the hardwood lumber industry, including the IMO.

A week or so after implementation, the ports of Savannah and Charleston confirmed that they would be offering the option of getting containers weighed upon arrival. One by one each port started following suit. Eventually after meetings between the steamship lines, ports, and government, it was determined that the ports would be authorized to submit the VGM on behalf of the shipper. At first, it was thought that a scale fee would be applied for every load that got weighed at the ports. It has since been determined that most, if not all ports would be weighing the cargo for free if it wasn’t received via rail. If containers were coming off the rail, the shippers had the option of submitting the VGM prior to in-gating (free of charge) or get the load weighed at the port for a $75 fee. There is also a fee for missing the VGM cut.

So far, charges for SOLAS have not been seen. An explanation could be the delay in billing that sometimes occurs with steamship lines. Today, we may receive a bill regarding a container that shipped three months ago. So, could we possibly get an invoice on a container that sailed in the beginning of July? Could there be a “grace period” where the shippers are allowed to iron out the kinks in their procedures? Nobody knows! We are still unsure if the fees will hold true and if they do, when we would see them. One steamship line has advised that they will starting charging at the end of September, whiles others have kept quiet.

Baillie Lumber continues to follow the IMO regulations requiring that all export loads of hardwood lumber be weighed prior to in-gating at the port or rail. Why? Aren’t the ports weighing containers for free (non-rail moves) and submitting the VGM on our behalf? The reason is we want to ensure that our documentation matches what the VGM states. If the ports are weighing the loads and submitting VGM on our behalf, we do not have a way of getting that information to put on our documentation. It is not clear yet if our customers will have problems clearing the containers at customs if their documentation doesn’t match the VGM.

So in general, two months have passed since the beginning of the SOLAS act. As of this writing, the best we can do is weigh each load, submit VGM, and continue to abide by the act.

Mike Duino
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