2/22/2016: Takeaways from Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy from Container weight listening session

From the Desk of commandant for U.S. Coast Guard prevention policy, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas

I had the opportunity last week to attend a listening session sponsored by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) on the amendments to SOLAS Regulation VI-2 that take effect on 1 July of this year. The so-called container weight regulation and the upcoming amendments have been the subject of much discussion in the business and maritime media, and have caused some concern and confusion in the industry. I thank the FMC for bringing key stakeholders together in an effort to reduce the confusion and establish a course toward resolution of the concern.

After listening to presentations from shippers, truckers and ocean carriers, it became clear to me that there is a lot of common ground amidst the concern and confusion. We all want to ensure the safety of vessels carrying U.S. exports, and we all want to ensure the continued efficient, productive and competitive operation of the supply chain that brings U.S. exports to market.

But it was also clear that there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding of the SOLAS requirements. Some asked how an international body, that does their work in London, could regulate U.S. domestic shippers operating out of our heartland. The simple answer is they cannot. Although SOLAS Regulation VI-2 is written in a manner that requires shippers to provide certain information to the vessel, there is no authority for the U.S. Coast Guard, or any other federal agency, to apply SOLAS to domestic shippers. In order to do so the Coast Guard would have to enact domestic regulations following the Administrative Procedure Act.

So does that mean the U.S. shippers are off the hook? Not exactly. U.S. shippers are part of a global supply chain and they work with international business partners around the world to bring their goods to the global market. When requirements are put on a business partner by that partner’s government, U.S. shippers can be impacted. That is exactly the case with the container weight amendments. The ships that bring U.S. exports to market are required, by their flag states (foreign governments), to comply with the SOLAS regulations. That requirement may impact U.S. shippers.

There was also some discussion at the listening session about the U.S. unilaterally delaying implementation of the amendments. To do so would simply delay the implementation of the SOLAS requirements aboard ships flying the U.S. flag, not aboard the foreign flag ships that carry the vast majority of U.S. exports. In the face of a unilateral delay in implementation by the U.S., other nations – signatory to SOLAS- could not allow ships of their flag to load containers in the U.S. and still meet their treaty obligations. This would put U.S. cargo at a disadvantage.

We, in the U.S. Coast Guard, take our responsibility to ensure the safety of life at sea very seriously and will continue to ensure compliance with SOLAS as both a flag and a port state. As a result of the listening session, I’m confident U.S. shippers and their business partners will put the right processes in place to continue to ensure safe and efficient maritime trade.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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