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BIC launches database to simplify compliance with SOLAS container weight requirements

BIC launches database to simplify compliance with SOLAS container weight requirements

The Bureau International des Containers (BIC) announces the launch of a pilot database of container tare weight data to support carriers, shippers, forwarders and other intermediaries as new SOLAS* mandatory container weight verification requirements come into effect on 1st July 2016.

This new mandate from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires shippers to declare the verified gross mass (VGM) of containers before they can be loaded onto a ship. To make fulfilling this requirement easier for ‘Method 2’ shippers (those adding cargo and securing material weight to the container tare weight to obtain the VGM), the new Technical Characteristics Database (TCD) will provide a reliable, easy-to-access source of container tare weight data.

Once populated, the TCD will allow shippers, forwarders and other intermediaries to access a single database to obtain tare weight, eliminating the need to either visit multiple websites to obtain the tare weight data or to obtain this information from the weight indicated on the door of each container. The TCD will not only be available via a website, but can also be accessed via a secure API, so that tare weight and other technical data can be automatically queried and integrated into shipper and forwarder systems. In either case, the party must provide the container number to obtain the tare weight.

For carriers and leasing companies, the database provides the automated tare weight access preferred by many shippers, without having to invest time and money on multiple integration requests or deal with requests for individual tare weights. It also simplifies any issue around tare weight arising when containers are interchanged or ‘swapped’ between parties.

The TCD does not capture container location data, nor will it display the owner or user of the container – its sole focus is to return the technical characteristics of a container when interrogated with the container’s operational number.

“The BIC has over 2100 container owner/operator members, of all different sizes, in 120 countries. With over 25 million containers frequently interchanging between operators, we felt that providing a central data repository was the right thing to do for the industry, both in terms of safety and efficiency,” explains Bertrand Geoffray, Secretary General of the BIC.

“As a non-profit, international organization supporting the container industry with multiple registration databases, the BIC is the natural entity to maintain this new database. We hope for swift uptake by the industry, as the TCD has the potential to greatly simplify the ‘Method 2’ process for shippers and significantly reduce the workload for owners and operators.”

The pilot has been developed with the participation of Touax, a leading container leasing company, and ocean carrier Marfret, who will be the first to have tare weights available in the TCD.

“We are pleased to support this initiative, which has the potential to bring efficiencies to the VGM declaration process. It may help avoid errors due to double entry and also a lot of unnecessary phone calls and e-mails,” says Gilles Gallinaro, Logistics Director of Marfret. “We always look to make ourselves easy to do business with, and while Marfret is of course prepared to deal directly with customers to provide tare weights, we feel that the industry may be better served by a central database.”

To provide guidance from a shipper’s perspective, tire giant Michelin is also participating in the pilot scheme, working with the BIC to develop the best way for shippers to access the database information. Looking ahead, in order to ensure the database is best optimized to meet the industry’s needs, the BIC is inviting representatives from several of its partner industry organizations to join an advisory committee.

Beyond the immediate benefits related to VGM declarations, once fully populated the TCD offers numerous other advantages. Parties such as rail operators and hauliers will be able to instantly obtain container size, type and other details using only the operational number. In the event of an accident, insurers and investigators will be able to access technical details and if owners include the manufacturer ID number, the database will become a useful tool in the event of container loss, insurance claims and recoveries.

The pilot phase, which is expected to last until the end of the year, is being provided free of charge to all parties. At the conclusion of the pilot phase, the program will be evaluated with industry partners to determine how to best proceed with a full roll-out. Part of this evaluation will include how to bring the maximum value to the industry in terms of safety, efficiency and cost-savings, and how to cover the database’s running costs. In any event, the TCD will be run as a stand-alone, non-profit, non-commercial service to the industry.

The minimum data elements required to participate in the TCD are the container number and tare weight, but, to achieve the full benefit of the database, the BIC is encouraging owners to upload as many of the technical details as possible. Fleet file guidelines will be provided imminently to assist those supplying data to populate the system, and once submitted, fleet files will be uploaded to the database in the order that they are received.

BIC will publicly announce the URL and API details for the database very shortly.

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