Ghana is the first country in the West African sub-region taking steps to comply with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) amendments to the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) adopted in November, 2014.
The amendments will make it mandatory for the verified weight of a container to be made available by a shipper to all parties in the chain of maritime transactions.
They will take effect in July 2016, with contracting parties expected to use the interim period to get their systems compliant.
In line with that, a seminar was organised last Thursday by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) for stevedores, freight forwarders and other companies engaged in port activities.
Facilitated by officials of Times-End ‘C’ Computers, the seminar sought to apprise the various partners in the sector on the new development.
Times End ‘C’ Computers are the African Regional representatives of the Shipping Messaging Developers Group in the Netherlands.
The group has developed a Verification of Mass System (VERMA), guidelines on the SOLAS and reporting on the verified gross weight of containers, which is free for all partners in the maritime industry to access and use.
Officials of Times-End ‘C’ Computers, Messrs Emmanuel Odartey and Joseph Lartey, briefed participants on the new regime of the SOLAS, what was required of them and the importance of adhering to the requirements.
Mr Odartey said by organising the meeting, the GPHA and the country had shown keen interest in safety and had indicated to the world that safety was important in its business.
He added that by organising the seminar, Ghana had become the first country to have taken any steps in implementing the SOLAS, and said that was commendable.
The Corporate Monitoring Manager of the GPHA, Mr Samuel Adjar, who sat through the briefing, said the maritime sector was a complex field of technicalities in the transportation and storage of cargo.
Technology was, however, evolving to ensure safety and efficiency.
He added that some vessels being built currently would automatically switch off if an overweight container was placed within its haul.
He said it was therefore important for all to be abreast of current developments in the maritime sector.
Participants, in their feedback, wondered who would be responsible for ensuring adherence to the requirements of the SOLAS.
Some were emphatic that shippers who had the responsibility of ensuring such information would not adhere to the requirement, adding that most manifests covering cargo for shipment had the column on weight shaded to ensure that stevedores and freight forwarders did not get to know the correct weight to charge accordingly.
The facilitators gave the assurance that subsequent seminars would be organised for shippers and other partners in the sector.
They gave the assurance to participants that with the new regime, a documented trail of the weight of a container would be instituted, to ensure and fix liability at any point in the haulage process, if the container was overweight and damaged property.
The amendments adopted make it binding on contracting state parties to ensure verified gross weights of containers to be loaded onto a vessel for transportation abroad to aid in ship storage planning from July, 2016.
The weight of a container has a direct bearing on the safety of personnel on shore and on vessels engaged in international maritime trade.
Container weights affect the stability of a vessel at sea when loading and offloading if the weight of a container is not taken into consideration to balance one against the other appropriately to ensure the stability of the vessel.
The weight of a container can also affect the safety of on-shore dock labour if a container is overweight and under declared. That can lead to accidents.
The convention specifies that the information on the verified gross weight of a container becomes part of the freight documentation needed in the maritime trade.
By the SOLAS, shippers are enjoined to provide the information on the verified gross weight of containers to carriers, who would provide the information to terminal points where goods are loaded or offloaded and finally to vessels transporting the containers.