No VGM, no admittance at Port of Houston

April 28, 2016  –Source:   The Port of Houston will deny access to its terminals for containers that arrive without electronic documentation of their verified gross mass after a new International Maritime Organization container weight rule takes effect on July 1.

The port, which handles two-thirds of the container volume on the U.S. Gulf Coast, joined ports in Virginia and Savannah in declining to provide on-terminal weighing to comply with the new rule.

Ports and terminals are taking a variety of approaches to comply with the amendments to the IMO’s Safety of Life at Sea Act. The SOLAS rules were enacted to curb misdeclared container weights, which have been cited as a hazard to ships and their crews and have been implicated in accidents and sinkings.

DP World this month became the first global container terminal operator to announce plans to weigh containers at all of its facilities. However, details still must be approved by national authorities, a process that has proceeded slowly and unevenly.

At Charleston, the South Carolina Ports Authority is testing on-terminal weighing of containers to comply with the new rule. Most other U.S. ports appear to be relying on VGM certifications acquired by shippers independently and provided to ocean carriers.

Jim Newsome, CEO at the South Carolina Ports Authority, said Charleston’s approach “eliminates potentially the need for a very damaging procedure that some terminals are opting to employ, namely rejecting containers received without a VGM on file.”

Jeff Davis, chief port operations officer at Houston, said the port’s approach was designed to avoid the risk that port operations could be disrupted if large numbers of containers were allowed into a terminal without VGMs. “If high numbers of containers are allowed in the terminal without a VGM and do not load the vessel, the additional container dwell days imposed on the terminal will create congestion and harm service levels,” he said.

The Port of Houston said that it will collect VGMs via electronic data interchange from the ocean carrier. Containers will be required to have a VGM certification on file before the port accepts a container at its terminals.

Port officials say they want to comply with the VGM regulations while keeping terminal operations fluid. Holding areas will be designated for trucks arriving without a VGM on file.

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