The Verified Gross Mass (VGM) is a fairly new concept introduced in the maritime industry. Container weight verification has now become a global requirement. A new amendment was brought into force by IMO and introduced in SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulation VI/2, adopted by resolution MSC.380(94) which became effective on the 1st of July, 2016 that covers container weight regulations.
According to this new amendment, no container is allowed to be loaded on board the ship unless its Verified Gross Mass has been declared by the shipper to the shipboard personnel and/or to port representatives.
This has been a great initiative by the IMO. The implementation of this rule has helped to improve the safety of ships at sea and benefit shipboard personnel as well as personnel ashore involved in container handling.
Now let us understand what is VGM?
The Verified Gross Mass or VGM is the combined weight of the container tare weight and weight of all cargo, including all packaging and dunnage.
There are two ways of for defining the VGM: by weighing the packed container or by calculation. I will discuss both of these methods later in this article.
Now the question is why was this regulation introduced at all? What was the need? After all, until 2016, containers were loaded onboard ships without any such weight declaration. Any query regarding the weight of the container could be found from the container markings which includes the Tare Weight and M.G.W (Maximum Operating Gross Weight).
Incorrect weight declarations have resulted in many accidents in the past. Incorrect weight declaration compromises the safe carriage of containers at sea and can put the life of seafarers at risk. Accurate weight declaration is therefore needed to prevent injuries to life and assets.
The shipper, whose name is mentioned in the Bill of Lading, is responsible to provide the VGM of the packed container to the ship personnel and the port terminals well in advance. VGM is not shown in the Bill of lading. It is declared separately from the Gross Cargo weight entered in the Bill of Lading.
It is a violation against SOLAS to load a packed container onboard a vessel whose VGM is undeclared. In the event of failure to declare the VGM of containers to be loaded onboard ships, the vessel can be delayed or cargo can be cancelled causing potential loss to the shipper as well as the carrier. The container would be rejected at the port terminals which follow the “NO VGM – NO GATE IN” policy and additional charges will be incurred for the time spent outside the terminal awaiting submission of VGM. Penalties may be incurred for non-compliance by SOLAS enforcing authorities.
The VGM requirement was brought by IMO with the intention to improve and increase the safety of container vessels, improve vessel stability and prevent the collapsing of container stacks. A lot of money is involved in the entire container transportation operation. Besides money, the most important factor is Safety which cannot be compromised at any cost.
Nowadays we have all seen that very many ultra-large container carriers have been introduced by different owners. With the increasing size of container carriers, comes an increased danger pertaining to the safe carriage of containers. It is therefore very important to plan the stowage very accurately and keep stability criteria within permissible limits for a safe and sound voyage. Any miscalculation or misinterpretation of data while planning the stowage and vessel stability can have disastrous effects in the long run. This is where the declaration of VGM becomes effective and crucial. The VGM requirement aims to reduce such risks.
Flowchart Showing Methods Of Determining VGM:
Accepted Methods Of Weighing To Obtain The VGM
There are 2 methods to obtain the VGM as discussed below:
This method implies weighing of the packed/sealed container along with its cargo contents using calibrated and certified weighing bridge equipment. The certified weighing station can either be located at port terminals or outside ports. If the container is weighed along with the road vehicle (chassis, truck) on which it is loaded, in this case, the weight of the truck and its fuel should be eliminated from the total weight.
This method requires weighing all the cargo items and contents of the container including the packing material, securing equipment, pallets or dunnage individually and adding those weights to the container’s tare weight as shown on the container CSC plate. Therefore the 4 elements to be determined to obtain VGM under Method 2 are:
- the tare weight of the container
- the weight of the product without any packaging.
- the mass of primary packaging (if any), and
- the mass of all other packaging, pallets, dunnage, space fillers and securing material
It should be noted that the weighing equipment (weighing bridge, scale or lifting equipment) used in either of the methods must meet the local country regulations and standards for accuracy certification and calibration requirements. Estimating weight, in either case, is not permitted. Proof of the weighing system used for certification must be made available on request which includes the following information:
- Weighing scale’s approval number
- Name of weighing scale company
- Date of weighing
- Address of weighing company
- Container number
- Seal number
- Name and signature of the weighing scale operating staff
- Company stamp
The following details must be on all VGM instructions
- Booking or Bill of Lading number
- Container number
- VGM + unit
- Responsible party Name in full
- Legible Signature
- Place and date of signature
The verified gross mass obtained by the shipper may not be 100% accurate. Keeping in mind the fact that due to wear and tear, some container’s tare mass may change over time and vary somewhat from the tare weight as marked on the container door CSC plate; some countries have stated a 2-5 % tolerance for the VGM. Some cargo products also may incur normal and minor changes in mass from the time of packing and weighing until delivery due to evaporation or humidity changes. These margins of error are minor and will not possess any threat to the safety of the ship. However, this does not relieve the shipper from the obligation of using weighing equipment that complies with the accuracy standards of the jurisdiction in which the equipment is being used.
Below are Vietnamese VGM declaration form: