The benefits of Solas Method 2

Solas VGM (verified gross mass) declaration in South Africa has not been the disaster that was predicted before the implementation date of 01 July, and appears to have become a routine operation for most shippers.

Although one may not think so from what we observe on our roads, when it comes to airfreight and seafreight, South African shippers are generally professional and well regulated, but they still need to be aware that Solas compliance need not be a major burden on their business.

However, many freight forwarders and their spokespersons appear to accept that Method 1 (weighbridge weighing of full containers) is preferable to Method 2 (weighing of individual cargo items) despite the latter being “simpler and slightly more cost-efficient” and the preferred method for the “majority of shippers in the rest of the world”.

Why is South Africa swimming against the tide and adding to already high logistics costs yet again? Certainly, a large proportion of our exports are bulk minerals and metals which are loaded at mines and warehouses with on-site weighbridges and are ideally suited to Method 1 determination by the big shippers – which largely explains why the majority of local shippers (said to be “at least 80%”) use this method.

However, packaged, palletised and breakbulk containerised cargo is much more suited to weighing of items during loading, and requires only a small amount of effort save considerable unnecessary costs.

It has become the norm that diverting full containers to weighbridges can result in additional direct costs of R300-R600+ per container, plus potential transport costs and delays (particularly in congested cities such as Johannesburg and Durban) which can amount to another R1000 or more. In addition, the shipper is dependent on receiving the weighing information from the weighbridge before documents can be submitted to the shipping line. In the worst case (if a container is loaded on a Friday afternoon, for example), a container can arrive at the port before the VGM has been submitted, and we all know what the consequences of that may be. If the shipper is accredited for Method 2 the VGM is available as the container door is sealed and can be sent at the same time as all other documentation without any delays.

Similarly, weighing facilities outside the port entrances offer a practical alternative (at a cost) for containers from outlying areas or neighbouring countries, but receiving the weight only when the cargo is about to enter the terminal will almost certainly cause delays in the documentation process, especially after hours and at weekends.

It appears that freight forwarders also seem to be advising their clients that Samsa-appointed assessors must be present at the loading of every container and therefore “less than 20 companies” is insufficient to support Method 2 Solas compliance. This is completely untrue. Under Method 1 every container must be weighed, but under Method 2 only the shipper’s equipment and procedure is assessed for Samsa authorisation to be granted

Any responsible business carries out routine maintenance of its vehicles, weighing equipment, fire extinguishers, roller shutter doors, etc and VGM declaration should be no different. Any shipper who has hazmat certification or ISO accreditation already goes even further than this, but Samsa authorisation can be achieved through a much less intensive process.

Many forwarders and shippers also appear to think that VGM declaration is important only to “full capacity” (eg, 30mt) containers. Obviously, shipping lines will stow heavy containers at the bottom of the stow – a large percentage of containers from South Africa will fall into this category - and lighter containers higher up. However, in certain sailing conditions, catastrophic situations can still occur if the lightest containers (<10mt) are stowed near the bottom but heavier containers (eg, >20mt) are stowed near the top. In other words, VGM is important whatever the mass of the container, even if the cargo is low in density ie, it is not just “full” containers that can cause disasters, but the number and spread of all containers on board that can contribute.

Forwarders will continue to send their clients’ containers over third-party weighbridges because it is the easy way out (and possibly allows an extra mark-up on their services), despite Method 2 being cheaper and more practical for their clients in many cases.

But why put cargo at risk and pay a substantial amount of money for every container for shipment using Method 1 when, for a small annual fee, shippers can have full control over weighing and VGM submission using Method 2?


Ross Clarke has been a geologist, sampler and commodity inspector for over 40 years, and has worked with containerised cargoes for most of this time. He recently established Verimet Inspection Services Africa which is a Samsa-accredited Solas Method 2 VGM assessor. Verimet is based on the East Rand.

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