Some recommended steps towards compliance with the Guidelines and increasing efficiency in the process of transporting cargo are set out below.
Carriers should review their existing business terms and conditions, commercial contracts, terminal service and haulage agreements, and other applicable standard terms, although their existing carrier bill of lading (B/L) terms may not require major revision. The amendments will need to ensure that the various processes, rights and obligations are clearly laid out and allocated to the appropriate parties.
It is also advisable that new procedures address consistent gate policies regarding VGM changes between booking and loading, prevention measures for containers without VGMs, and minimum requirements for the acceptability of declarations as VGMs. Establishing deadlines for VGM receipt, the rights and liabilities regarding booking cancellations, and the way in which this information is communicated, are also important.
In addition to establishing a record keeping system for discrepancies and corrections, which will greatly assist with every-day operations and potential claims, carriers are encouraged to identify the competent authority bodies in each applicable jurisdiction and understand how SOLAS has been implemented in each such jurisdiction, so as to better coordinate with other parties and minimise the risks of breaching local laws.
Given that the multitude of parties involved in the container trade and that, so far as SOLAS is concerned, the contemplated shipper is simply the party named on the ocean B/Ls, it would be sensible for shippers to reach an agreement with the cargo sale and purchase and forwarding chain parties who will be providing the VGM and who will, therefore, be responsible for it. The shipper should consider their potential exposure and whether they are the “shipper” or simply a “booking party”. Clarity as to the identity of the “shipper” will be needed in cases where parties, who individually ship less than a full-container load, consolidate their parcels into one container. When preparing new, or amending existing, agreements, terms of services, contracts, operational procedures, communication systems or other similar matters, the shipper must consider how the changes may affect their businesses, relationships with counterparts and the commercial opportunities changes to service terms may present.
It may also be advisable for the shipper to establish the identity of the competent authorities regulating the various container aspects and how the SOLAS amendments will be implemented, in terms of planning future operations.
It is noteworthy that forwarders, particularly when acting as non-vessel operating carriers, will have to review their agreements, standard business terms and house B/Ls, so that they include adequate protections for potential liabilities, at least in relation to claims usually expected from shippers and/or carriers.
All parties should speak to their insurance brokers, in order to ensure that their respective insurance policies protect them from the new risks and liabilities.
Historically, tough trading conditions in the shipping industry have meant that safety measures have lapsed. The IMO’s efforts provide an opportunity to review loading practices, provided commercial parties and SOLAS signatory states abide by and implement the new Guidelines.