New global weight regulations could upset US ports

Fitch-rated ports in the US have neither the designated facilities nor the systems to weigh individual containers.

In anticipation of new International Maritime Organisation requirements to verify shipping container weights, Fitch Ratings said planned changes in regulation could generate uncertainty among US ports.

In a report released late last week, the ratings agency noted that Fitch-rated ports have neither the designated facilities for weighing containers nor the systems in place for verifying weights. It posited that this could raise already chronic congestion at ports “slowed by chassis management issues, higher cargo loads from larger vessels and inadequate inland or intermodal links”.

“Beginning on July 1, 2016, an amendment to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) will require the verified gross mass (VGM) of packed containers to be documented before carriers or terminal operators can load them,” Fitch said in a statement. “US port terminals will almost certainly face containers at their gates that lack the required verification as the SOLAS amendment goes into effect.” 

Costs associated with verification among shippers, forwarders, terminals and carriers could vary. Some terminals may opt to install their own weight verification, especially at smaller ports, but this was less likely among higher-volume terminal operators as the measure was “not likely to be a practical solution”, Fitch said.

The slowdown on container movements expected to result from SOLAS implementation comes at a time when Fitch expects overall port throughput to rise. 

The agency said it projects that risks posed to Fitch-rated US ports as a result of SOLAS will likely decline over time.