A new regulation requiring the gross mass of a container to be verified before it is loaded onto a ship enters into force today, July 1.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it will assist in ensuring that the millions of containers carried on ships each year are optimally stowed, thereby helping to prevent container stacks collapsing and containers being lost overboard, and the associated injury and loss of life.

In 2011, the IMO and United Nations began to develop verified gross mass (VGM) measures in response to concerns expressed by member states and the shipping industry, following a number of incidents involving loss of containers and container ships.

According to the amendments to SOLAS regulation VI/2, now in force, either of two methods can be used to verify the gross mass of packed containers.

The first method involved weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment.

The second involves weighing all packages and cargo items - including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses - using a certified method approved by the competent authority of the state in which packing of the container was completed.

The shipper must ensure that the VGM of each packed container is stated in the shipping document. This document, signed by the shipper or his representative, must be submitted to the master or his representative, and to the terminal representative, in good time for the ship stowage plan to be drawn up. If not, the container shall not be loaded onto the ship.

IMO states that member states, shippers and shipping industry have been preparing for implementation of the new requirement since it was adopted in 2014. However, there has been widespread confusion regarding the implementation of the new rules.

In April a collective appeal was made to authorities by European shippers, freight forwarders, port authorities and terminal operators for a coordinated implementation of the new regulation amid concern.