IN spite of fears of congestion and slowing cargo movement, the global verified gross mass (VGM) requirement that the accurate weight of all containers be recorded before loading has been handled smoothly in most ports, according to Marine Transport International (MTI).
The relative ease with which shippers, forwarders, and port operators have managed the requirement has been made possible in part by the advent of a number of VGM management software platforms, including one developed by MTI.
MTI’s program, called SOLAS VGM, “has aided shippers in racking up 12,000 verified gross mass (VGM) transactions over the five months it has been live and is reducing the costs and processes associated with the requirements,” the company said.
The software platform, which MTI developed in partnership with big data company Black Swan, allows shippers to submit the VGM information of multiple containers through one portal directly to carriers.
The program also can integrate with existing systems, such as EDIFACT, which stands for Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport. EDIFACT is the accepted international data exchange standard, with syntax rules established by the United Nations. By linking smoothly with EDIFACT, the SOLAS VGM and similar programs have allowed secure information sharing between carriers, port operators, and forwarders at both the origin and destination, helping to prevent bottlenecks, MTI said.
“The shipping industry is starting to realize the benefits of digitalization, but there’s still a lot to be done. Every player, whether it’s a port operator, a carrier or a forwarder, has different systems and processes,” explained Jody Cleworth, CEO of Marine Transport International.
“This means shippers must spend time and money sending multiple forms of documentation and waiting for responses. We’re helping our customers reduce costs and speed up the processes, by offering a service that is open, adaptable and works with existing systems,” Cleworth added.
The introduction of the VGM requirements on July 1 has created what some in the industry estimate to be a $4 billion market, as different players in the sector have applied new charges for the VGM services. In many cases, shippers have to cover the additional costs themselves.
Gary Waters, Global Logistics Director at Cycle Link UK, a major paper exporter said, “We had two people working full time making sure all our shipments had the right VGM documentation and that everything had been followed correctly.” By applying the software platform, however, Waters said the company was able to have just one person manage the shipments.
The verified gross mass requirement was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) after lengthy study due to safety concerns over unrecorded or inaccurate container weights, which could put ships at risk. The effort was sparked by the wreck of the MSC Napoli, a 275-meter containership that foundered in the English Channel in January 2007 due to an unbalanced load.