The new SOLAS weighing rules have finally come in to force. But is the industry ready for it? Alexandra Leonards explores…
There is a high level of science in the maritime business, according to Gavin Roser, secretary general of The European Freight and Logistics Leaders Forum, and chairman and co-founder of the Coastlink Network. “It is highly complex.” And it has just got more complex for ports, dangerous goods, solid cargo and container shipping companies.
New Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rules, which became compulsory on 1st July 2016, require every container loaded onto a ship to be weighed for its Verified Gross Mass (VGM). But are ports and shippers prepared?
Graeme Parkins, managing director of Hy-Dynamix, which produces a mobile container weighing system, says there is lots of ambivalence around the port weighing. He says that the message isn’t getting out, and that ports can’t handle these kinds of changes.
But ports have been making an active effort to get things ready for the new changes. Just over a month before the rules came in to play, Peel Ports introduced weighbridges at multi-lane auto-gates at The Port of Liverpool. DP World, which runs out of London Gateway and Southampton, also put forward plans for an integrated container weighing service. As well as this, it launched a web site providing information for shippers. The Port of Felixstowe too offers a container weighing service.
But Parkins says that problems associated with weighbridges, like shippers needing to arrive at the port early, could result in compromised flexibility and time costs.
Whether or not the industry is prepared for the changes is something that has been called into question time and again in recent months.
Before the guidelines came into force, P&I Club said that some terminals and shippers still seemed unprepared. It warned that ‘chaos and commercial dispute’ could be expected if companies were not well equipped to handle the changes.
But The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said there would be a ‘practical and pragmatic’ implementation of the rules for the first three months. Nevertheless, the British International Freight Association urged the freight forwarding industry to avoid being complacent about the rules. At the time, Robert Keen, director general of BIFA, said that international trade should not “allow this grace period to shape its plans in regards to complying with the new rules.”
He said that the IMO’s remark meant that for the three months following 1st July, containers that are ‘loaded before that date, but transhipped on or after that date, reach their final port of discharge without a verified gross mass.”
For ro-ro operations there are already regulations in place to control how much is transported by a ferry company or shipping line. So the new SOLAS rules haven’t really put any pressure on this side of the industry.
In fact, Richard Horswill, head of freight UK and ROI at Stena Line, says that the changes may even be beneficial to the ferry industry. Ferries won’t have to check weights at the port, or deal with slowing down gate in procedures. So the rules present an opportunity for Ro-ro businesses to become an “alternative.”
But, that isn’t to say the ro-ro industry isn’t facing its own problems. “Timing is important,” says Horswill. “The shipping industry has not fully recovered from the economic crisis – there’s been a gap for shipbuilding. Ferry companies are just starting to announce new investment.
“Broadly speaking, there is still a need for the industry to sustain levels of profitability after the recession.”
The industry is very competitive. “But that’s how the system works,” says Horswill. He talks about the Irish Sea, where currently four companies are competing for business. “That keeps all of the companies on their toes in terms of providing the best service and prices,” he says.
The most important driver for ferry operators at the moment is managing costs which have been impacted by external issues, environmental issues and balancing that against good prices, says Horswill. And one of the most significant challenges facing the short sea market is the drive for lower emissions and the costs associated with this.
It is particularly problematic for shippers operating in SECA areas, where sulphur levels now have to be 0.10 per cent m/m or lower in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, North American area and the United States Caribbean Sea.
“Most ferries have introduced a surcharge for fuel, so its been passed on. In the last year fuel prices have been low, so we’ve not seen the full effect,” says Horswill. “Oil prices are going up again but nowhere near the level that they were. It remains to be seen if this will grow on the ferry side, despite charges.”
Ten minute weighing
Described as a “real problem solver” by Hy-Dynamix managing director Graeme Parkins, the new ‘Hy-Weigh’ container weighing system has been released into the market at a very apt time indeed.
The company launched its new product in May – the technology pre-empts the new SOLAS weighing rules that have been looming over the industry for months.
The Hy-Weigh removes all need for craneage – and is suitable for moderate sized containers of up to 40ft in length and 32 tonnes in weight. Parkins says that the design has avoided complex software to provide a simple and easy two man operation.
He says that it is the best-engineered and safest equipment of its kind. It is TUV/CE marked.
Four corner hydraulic lifting jacks, along with the companies hydraulic power source ‘Hy-Power’, enable lifting, moving and weighing containers within the customer’s own facilities. This means customers avoid the need for craneage or the use of weighbridges – where timing can be inconvenient.
The container is weighed before transportation, and it is displayed as a ‘digital read-out for recording of verified gross mass on shipping documentation’.
The system uses simple colour coding in the process of identifying the corners of the container, and the control panel enables individual corners to be raised and lowered.
The entire process on average takes approximately ten minutes.
Dover plans logistics centre for Western Docks
The Port of Dover sees 2.5 million lorries pass through it every year, handling around £11.9 billion worth of trade. Its trade is dominated by ro-ro – with 76 per cent of its goods transported via ferry. But it is moving direction, expanding, and essentially hoping to diversify.
Forecasting and planning is key in this business. Ports especially need to look ahead, sometimes 30, 40 or even 50 years. And The Port of Dover has a plan that certainly looks far into the future.
It currently has a small lo-lo cargo business, which mainly handles fresh produce. Some 25 per cent of UK bananas already come through the port – but it wants to grow this cargo side of the business significantly.
The port has planning permission for two new cargo berths – which will be built on expanded nearby land and situated next to the ferry terminal.
The scheme is called the ‘Dover Western Docks Revival (DWDR)’.
Alongside the new cargo terminal, there will be a distribution facility at the port. Barbara Buczek, director of corporate development at the port, describes the facility as a ‘European logistics centre’, rather than a traditional port centric facility. This is because it is not there to store goods but rather to process goods close to the port, at a quicker pace than at a traditional port centric facility, and on a smaller scale.
Buczek emphasises that the project is not in competition with some of the other big cargo ports. “It’s very different,” she says. “It wouldn’t compete with Felixstowe or London Gateway.”
The port describes its site as the ‘ultimate strategic location’ with quick and direct access into Europe across the shortest sea crossing. According to the company, because the new facility will be close to the ‘world’s busiest shipping lane’ there will be minimal ship deviation.
Buczek says that as a European logistics centre, with speed, location and backhaul opportunities, Dover presents a big advantage for cargo companies. The new facility hopes to attract cargo vessels destined for short sea trips serving Europe only.
Some of the main benefits of the plans include: reducing lorry miles, saving CO2, and shortening logistics chains.
The port describes the typical logistics chain as one that ships fresh produce, which is then dropped off at the port, transported by lorry to a facility in which it is processed, and then transported again by lorry to the final destination or shops.
Dover’s planned logistics chain will cut out the first lorry journey by processing goods directly at the port – which can then be transferred to the shops directly, reducing lorry miles significantly.
Buczek says that the port aims to complete the development within the next five years.