SOLAS Founding and History
In its real-world, functioning form, SOLAS is an international maritime treaty which requires “signatory flag states” [countries] to ensure that ships flagged by them meet minimum safety standards. These “flag states” are also responsible in mandating ships under their flags to comply with all other SOLAS requirements. The current version of the Convention (still officially known as SOLAS 1974) was established on May 25, 1980. As of March 2016, SOLAS now incorporates 162 contracting states which flag about 97 percent of merchant ships around the world in terms of gross tonnage. The Convention is also brokered on a worldwide level by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the auspices of the United Nations. Although there is no formal connection or direct relation between SOLAS and port security or international trade considerations, trade agreements could be stressed if parties to those agreements would choose not to enforce the global standards mandated by SOLAS.
The first incarnation of SOLAS was adopted in 1914 in response to the Titanic disaster, and according to the Convention, SOLAS in its successive forms is “generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.” The modern and current 1974 adaptation of SOLAS also includes the “Tacit Acceptance Procedure,” which provides that “an amendment shall enter into force on a specified date unless, before that date, objections to the amendment are received from an agreed number of parties.” As a result, the 1974 Convention has been updated and amended on numerous occasions up into the present day.
SOLAS Objectives and Initial Structure
As stated in its treatise, the main technical provisions’ objective of the SOLAS Convention is “to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety.” Control Provisions also allow contracting governments to inspect ships of other contracting states if there are clear grounds for believing that the ship and its equipment do not substantially comply with the requirements of the Convention—this procedure is known as “Port State Control.”
The Convention, as it stands today, includes Articles setting out general obligations and amendment procedures, followed by an Annex divided into 12 chapters. The first chapter of SOLAS’s general provisions includes regulations concerning the survey of the various types of ships and the issuing of documents signifying that every contracted ship meets the requirements of the Convention. This also includes provisions for the control of ships in ports of other contracting governments. Early chapters adopted through the years have related to the safe construction of ships related to their subdivision and stability, as well as machinery and electrical installations—specifically for watertight integrity and bilge pumping arrangements in passenger and cargo ships.
SOLAS Modern Chapters/Amendments
Later chapters (or amendments) have set guidelines for fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction; life-saving appliances and arrangements; radio communications; safety of navigation; carriage of cargoes; carriage of dangerous goods; nuclear ships; management for the safe operation of ships; safety measures for high-speed craft; special measures to enhance maritime safety; special measures to enhance maritime security; additional safety measures for bulk carriers; verification of compliance; and safety measures for ships operating in polar waters.
The last three of these amendment chapters have either been established within and during this past year or will be required by 2017. Rice Lake is particularly involved with the current issues of safety measures for bulk carriers and the verification of compliance. What prompted these new regulations was several at sea disasters (such as the MSC Napoli) that were the result of improperly configured cargo due to grossly overloaded containers. The ramifications of these instances included loss of life, destruction and loss of property and harmful environmental impacts.
Verified Gross Mass
Tim Donahue, product manager at Rice Lake, noted that under one of the new amendments, all containers must have a verified gross mass (VGM) as a condition for loading onto vessels and the shipper will be responsible for providing that weight reading. “Failure to comply will result in the container not being loaded onto the vessel,” he added.
This latest SOLAS amendment establishes two primary paths to verifying the gross mass:
1) Weighing the container after it has been packed and sealed;
2) Weigh the individual contents of the container and then adding the tare weighing of the container to establish gross mass.
“The lack of a ‘shipper obtained weight’ can be corrected by determining the weight at the port—requiring a process to be in place at the port for establishing the verified gross mass,” said Donahue.
Rice Lake and SOLAS Regulations
He further explained that this regulation will greatly impact ports internationally, because nearly all flagged vessels hail from SOLAS member nations. “These vessels must comply with the requirement and would be unable to load containers that did not properly document the gross mass.” Ultimately, ports that either cannot provide a verified gross mass, or choose to ignore the requirement, will not be used. “United States’ ports will need to embrace the change in order maintain economic viability in global container transactions,” added Donahue.
Although the shipper is ultimately responsible, the general sense is that the shipper will rely on ports to provide the weighing service. Donahue feels that as a result of this, SOLAS is a much needed change to how containers are handled. “The problem with overweight containers presents a clear and present risk to life and property. Professionally, this is an excellent opportunity to work with a key industry and provide safety mechanisms to protect cargo and personnel from unsafe conditions.”
It is important to note that the industry generally accepts what is referred to as Method 1, citing the weight of the whole container as the preferred method for verifying gross mass.
Donahue contended that SOLAS’s primary concerns connected to this are:
1) Who this burden of weighing realistically falls upon;
2) How to integrate weighing as part of an existing operation (as opposed to creating an additional step in an already busy logistics process).
Rice Lake’s Integrated Systems Address SOLAS Requirements
To accomplish this, Rice Lake developed integrated systems in the crane container spreader head. “Our solutions include both twist lock sensors, replacing original equipment manufacturer (OEM) twist locks with gauged sensing elements, and load pins in the spreader head connection points,” explained Donahue. Both of these solutions will provide accuracy as well as not require changes to existing equipment. “We also offer truck scale, rail scale and other solutions aimed at providing weighing support and compliance at any point within the port or terminal environment,” he added.
SOLAS regulations touch every business and industry. Besides the regulations inspiring Rice Lake to create marketable industry options as well as the motivation to provide realistic solutions, the forthcoming changes have lead the company to consider container weight in their logistics and shipping operations and require continued vigilance and process updating. Rice Lake works with several industry organizations and advisory boards to ensure that these regulations are understood and properly communicated.
Although Rice Lake does not play any role in influencing or directing SOLAS regulations, the company still actively influences what solutions may be accepted by the market. “This is achieved through our work with non-governmental organizations and port terminal operators,” noted Donahue. When asked if there was anything he would change or do differently with SOLAS if he were ever in control of such decisions, Donahue imparted that SOLAS provides very little guidance in terms of system accuracy targets and it also is very vague regarding enforcement and penalties. “Ideally, SOLAS should better define these points to help those impacted better prepare,” he concluded.
Rice Lake Weighing Systems is an ISO-9001 registered manufacturer of weighing and weight related process control equipment in Rice Lake, WI. For more information, please call: 800-472-6703; Email: email@example.com.
You can read more of Christopher’s work at www.cussat.com.