Questions raised over policing of ‘safe containers’ bill

7 March 2011

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While the new Merchant Shipping (Safe Containers Convention) Bill is welcomed by the freight and shipping industries, policing it is likely to be a bit of a problem, according to maritime lawyer, Andrew Robinson, a director.

Once promulgated, he told FTW, all responsibility for implementing the requirements of the convention will be held by the minister of transport. Previously, the functions concerned fell within the ambit of the department of trade and industry.

Meantime, the regulations made in terms of the proposed new legislation will be administered and enforced by the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa).

"“The only real question,” Robinson added, “is how Samsa intends carrying out its regulatory functions.”

Not that he’s suggesting that the safety authority doesn't have the capabilities or expertise.

“But,” he said, “it does seem like a whole lot of work, and Samsa's resources are already pretty stretched.” The bill, which is to fulfil SA’s obligations as a contracting party to the 1972 international convention for safe containers, does create a rather significant area of responsibility for the authority.

Robinson told FTW that, in seeking to give effect to the International Convention for Safe Containers, the bill demands:

  • Maintaining a high level of safety of human life in the transport industry and handling of containers by providing generally acceptable test procedures and related strength requirements;
  • facilitating international transport of containers Bill provides uniform international safety regulations for containers. by providing uniform international safety regulations;
  • repealing the International Convention for Safe Containers Act, 1985.

He noted that the provisions of the bill applied to international shipping containers of a prescribed minimum size with devices fitted to allow for handling, securing and stacking.

“Once a container has been approved and plated,” Robinson said, “it should be possible to transport it internationally by land and sea ‘with the minimum of safety control formalities’'. This is in accordance with the principle of ‘reciprocal acceptance’ of safety-approved containers.”

Given all this, just how Samsa manages to cope with its responsibilities with its already restricted staff numbers and resources is the question.

“In terms of the bill,” Robinson added, “Samsa is empowered to designate inspectors and to direct inquiries into certain accidents and incidents. The regulations to the bill also establish requirements as to the approval, maintenance, repair, inspection, detention and disposal of containers.”

Norton Rose South Africa (incorporated as Deneys Reitz Inc) joined Norton Rose Group on 1 June 2011.