Playing SOLAS Chicken

Remember the SOLAS game of chicken I wrote about in April in the ‘The End is Near’ SOLAS article?  You didn’t read the article?  Really? Geez…okay, here is a link to it for you.  Go read it now while the rest of us wait.  There will be a test so comprehension counts.

Okay, let’s move onward.  Since we all have now read the article we know that the SOLAS was crafted to protect life and property in the maritime industry.  To accomplish this, the SOLAS treaty was amended to make shippers responsible for the weight of the container by making them verify gross mass (VGM).  You also now know from reading just about no one was ready and there promised to be hell to pay because of it.  Who was going to step up to the plate and start preparing for SOLAS was the question?  Okay… I’m done reviewing the last article.

There seems to be some real action taking place as everyone is figuring out the end is indeed near.  So far at least six US east coast ports and nineteen container lines have stepped up and said they were willing to put some skin in the game.  Along with the first skin givers lines like Hamburg Sud are busy scrambling to find platforms like Inttra to get ready for SOLAS.  To me the most priceless component in this story is the very people SOLAS was designed to hold accountable seem to be the least worried, the shippers who load the containers!  Shippers for the most part thumbed their nose at the SOLAS Treaty, took the position of ‘it’s not my problem’ and stood around with their hands in their pockets, and it worked!  The brilliance of the maneuver does not escape me.

What is even cooler is the shipper’s inactivity is triggering organizations that typically don’t change the rules and move fast, to change the rules and move fast.  The ports, carriers and Ocean Carrier Equipment Association asked the U.S. Maritime commission for permission to enter an agreement to be able to trade data relating to container weight.  Most terminals weigh containers on the way in they are going to at least talk about trying using that weight to fulfil the SOLAS requirement by quick trades of data.  Even the U.S. Coast Guard who is responsible for implementing the rule is getting in on the action by approving two equivalency methods to make grade.  All parties are now looking for ways to ease the process without taking the teeth out of the SOLAS Treaty.  Stripping down the compliance process to the point of making it ‘paper rule only’ does not serve the spirit of intent and design.

By the time I finish writing this the story will have changed three times on who is doing what.  The only way you can keep up with the furious changes in the script is to visit and head to the ‘International Transportation Regulation’ section.  The stories are changing almost daily.  With only 41 days left from today, you can see why everyone is finally getting the message ‘The End is Near’.

I wish I could say the knee jerk reaction of the ports, carriers, U.S. Coast Guard, and   Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association to solve the problem was due to reading my 25April ‘End is Near’ article on the subject.  Alas, I cannot.  If that were the case they would have started much earlier when I wrote my first article on SOLAS 12February called ‘Being a heavy weight isn’t always a good thing.’  You didn’t read that one either?  Really?  Oh for Rice Krispies sake, here is the link for you to catch up.   We’re not waiting this time.

In the ‘End is Near’ article I mentioned there was a terrific game of transportation chicken getting ready to unfold and I wondered who would blink first.  My gut told me there was an extension coming with a port and ocean carrier effort for a temporary work around.  I was more wrong than I was right.  As it turns out just about everyone is blinking with the exception of the shippers who are still hold their thumbs firmly to their collective noses and no one is mentioning an extension on the SOLAS start date.

Because there is some movement towards a solution does not mean your supply chain is out of the woods just yet for July.  Because of the huge numbers of containers involved even well planned changes of process for ports and ocean freight can put the hoodoo on traffic flow and operations.  I am getting the feeling whatever the ports and carriers manage to throw together on such short notice will have a flaw or two.  Also consider this is a global initiative where some countries will do a better job than others meeting and enforcing the requirements.  Is there a possibility the problem will fizzle out?  There sure is. But being prepared for freight delays starting in July would be wise even if things might work out.