United States: Uncertainty Follows Coast Guard Comments On SOLAS Container Weight Regulation

J. Michael Cavanaugh is a Partner and Eric Lee is an Associate in our Washington, D.C. office.


  • International containership carriers will implement recent amendments to the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention on July 1, 2016, requiring shippers to provide verified gross mass (VGM) certificates to ocean carriers for all containers.
  • The VGM document requirement is mandatory, although IMO "Guidelines" on methods for implementation are not mandatory.
  • Key stakeholders are continuing to engage the U.S. Coast Guard in an effort to clarify its position on the U.S. application and enforcement of the SOLAS VGM requirement.

Some confusion and uncertainty has arisen in the international ocean shipping and logistics industry following several public statements and FAQs released by the U.S. Coast Guard in the past few days regarding the impending implementation of the IMO's SOLAS Convention container weight regulation. Under SOLAS Chapter VI, Regulation 2, effective July 1, 2016, IMO flag-state containership operators and the marine terminals at which their vessels load must receive a shipper-signed weight certificate stating the "verified gross mass" (VGM) for each container before loading to the vessel. Major carrier and shipper stakeholders have interpreted the Coast Guard's remarks as questioning whether the requirement is mandatory, whether it applies to shippers or will be enforced at U.S. ports, and what the Coast Guard will do to implement the rule. Industry stakeholders are continuing to engage the Coast Guard in an effort to clarify the Coast Guard's position regarding application and enforcement of Regulation 2, e.g., the World Shipping Council's March 3, 2016, letter to Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the Coast Guard.

What's Certain

A review of SOLAS Chapter VI, Regulation 2, the recent Coast Guard statements and Coast Guard FAQs, as well as interpretations of the Regulation 2 amendmentsby ocean carriers and authorities worldwide, makes it clear that: 1) the SOLAS verified gross mass certificate (VGM) is mandatory for IMO flag-state vessels operating in international trade; 2) the VGM requirement will be implemented by July 1 for such vessels loading at U.S. ports; and 3) IMO "Guidelines" for implementation are not mandatory, so carriers and shippers have some flexibility to work out acceptable procedures. Although the Coast Guard now questions whether the SOLAS regulation applies to shippers or terminals in the United States, and sees little or no enforcement role for itself in the process, there is no dispute that it applies to the IMO flag-state vessels engaged in international trade, and thus the vessel operators may, and presumably all will, implement the shipper-signed weight document requirement as of July 1 at U.S. ports.

Regulation 2 Mandatory Requirements

Regulation 2, which is mandatory for IMO flag-state vessels (the U.S., most major shipping nations and international registries, e.g., Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Bahamas), requires that shippers must verify by a reliable method the weight of each container tendered, that shippers must timely provide to the vessel's master and the terminal a "shipping document" signed by the shipper's representative verifying such weight, and that no container may be loaded to an IMO flag-state vessel for international carriage unless the shipper has provided the vessel operator and terminal with such document. Fully parsed out, the three short paragraphs of Regulation 2 covering this topic require the following:

1. The shipper must verify the gross mass of each container

2. The container gross mass must be stated in a "shipping document"

3. The document must be signed by the shipper's representative

4. Weight cannot be estimated, and must be obtained by using one of two "Methods":

  • Method 1 – weigh the loaded container using equipment that is calibrated and certified per local requirements at point of weighing
  • Method 2 – weigh goods and packing/dunnage using a certified method approved by competent authority at weighing location, and add to tare weight of container (printed on the container's door)

5. The document must be provided to the master and terminal prior to loading

If all the above are not done, then the carrier shall refuse loading. Note that Regulation 2 does not state the time by which the document must be provided. That may be established by the terminal or the carrier.

IMO Guidelines

Possibly leading to some of the current confusion is uncertainty regarding the IMO's "Guidelines Regarding the Verified Gross Mass of a Container Carrying Cargo" issued June 9, 2014. The Guidelines are not mandatory, but they provide a more detailed discussion and definitions, and are "intended to establish a common approach for the implementation and enforcement of the SOLAS requirements regarding the verification of the gross mass of packed containers."

Flexibility Allowed

Taken as a whole, Regulation 2, the IMO Guidelines and the Coast Guard's statements and FAQs indicate that international shippers must provide signed VGM documents meeting the minimum procedural and content requirements of the regulation, and that vessels engaged in international trade will not load containers for which no such signed document has been provided prior to loading. Beyond this, however, the exact manner and arrangements by which carriers, shippers and regulators will implement and enforce Regulation 2 is flexible. Parties can cooperate to use any methods or procedures, as long as they satisfy all of the clear requirements of the regulation.

Additionally, note that Regulation 2, paragraph 6 states that "if the shipping document, with regard to a packed container, does not provide the verified gross mass and the master or his representative and the terminal representative have not obtained the verified gross mass of the packed container, it shall not be loaded on the ship." If a container scheduled for loading has no document, paragraph 13 of the Guidelines suggests that the carrier or terminal themselves, or a subcontractor, could weigh it using Method 1 (weighing the loaded box) and proceed to load. In such a case, the carrier or terminal likely would impose a charge, which could be billed to the shipper if the parties had an arrangement in place, or the carrier or terminal might have the ability to charge the cargo based on a tariff, a bill of lading or other applicable terms.

Furthermore, paragraph of the IMO Guidelines states that sealed packages arriving for shipment that have accurate weights marked on them do not need to be reweighed. Thus, a carrier receiving LCL items could rely on the package weight and use Method 2 to determine VGM prior to loading.

In addition, some ports, such as Charleston, have announced they will have weighing equipment available.

Coast Guard Position

In more recent statements, the Coast Guard questions whether Regulation 2 applies to shippers or terminals in the U.S. However, on its face, Regulation 2, which the Coast Guard confirms is mandatory, expressly states that shippers must determine container weight by Method 1 or 2, and must provide the weight document to the vessel master and terminal before loading. The World Shipping Council, which represents containership operators and participated along with the Coast Guard in the IMO process leading to adoption of the recent amendments, has sent a strong letter to the Coast Guard demanding further clarification of the agency's interpretation.

For now, the Coast Guard's position appears to mean the agency itself will not act to enforce the SOLAS regulations, and will not impose fines or take other regulatory action as to missing or inaccurate shipper weight certificates. However, this controversy may not have any material effect on shippers' weight certificate obligations at U.S. terminals. The vessel operators – which the Coast Guard agrees are subject to the mandatory SOLAS regulations – are on track to implement the requirement on July 1, with or without Coast Guard compliance activity.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.