• Trevor Wetmore

Shoddy shipping: a hefty danger to workers and wildlife

Cargo ship YM Efficiency lost 83 containers off the NSW coast this week. Consumer goods – mostly plastic – littered the ocean and beaches, harming sea-life, threatening other shipping and imposing a massive clean-up operation. The lost containers now lie on the ocean floor and will continue to leak their toxic contents for years to come.

 This incident attracted so much media attention, you might think it was unusual, but the only unusual factor was its visibility, due to proximity to our shore.

Bad business-as-usual

 According to the World Shipping Council, business-as-usual (BAU) sees an average of 568 shipping containers lost every year. In addition, storms and other disasters send more than 1,000 containers overboard annually.

 At sea, the motion of container ships combines rolling, pitching and/or yawing. Sailors use colourful words to describe the complex, dynamic stresses impacting ships and their cargo.

 But we can’t blame the wind and waves for all BAU container losses. Improper packing, overweight containers, poor stowage and inadequate lashing greatly exacerbate the effects of weather and ocean forces.

 The cargo loss from Efficiency resulted from 5-metre ocean swell. As the vessel docked in Sydney, tilted stacks of crushed containers were visible on deck. Collapses like this often occur when container stacks are too heavy, too high and inadequately secured.

Mass misreporting

 In 2016, the International Maritime Organisation’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea introduced new regulations requiring a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) for every container loaded onto a ship. 

 The aim of a mandatory VGM is to protect sailors and dock workers, ships and cargo, ocean and shore environments and sea-life, by preventing incorrect stowage decisions that can result in container stack collapse or overboard loss.

 Dangerously, the VGM regulations are being flouted, globally. A 2017 survey by Victorian International Container Terminals revealed significant non-compliance: 20% of Australian export containers and more than 40% of import containers varied from their declared weight by 500kg, while more than 8% of exports and 11% of imports varied by a tonne or more.

 Overweight containers pose a hazard on land too. 70% of the semi-trailers that carry containers to and from shipping terminals do not have on-board mass measurement systems and the balance have questionable

calibration/maintenance programs.  Overloaded trucks put lives at risk and increase damage to roads.

 On 1 October 2018, the Heavy Vehicle National Law will be amended so that every party involved in consigning, packing, loading, moving or receiving goods is linked in a Chain of Responsibility (COR) and must have safety management systems and controls in place. Operators will have to verify that the weight of vehicles is within axle limits and legal gross mass.

Safety solution and less pollution

 Non-compliance with safety regulations occurs to avoid costs in time and money. Efficient, affordable and consistent weight management practices across the whole shipping sector are long overdue.

Cindicium's innovative CLAW technology allows users to quickly and easily weigh containers on the ground, deck, or back of a truck, and share data remotely. By promoting consistency between sea and land systems, Cindicium helps to streamline shipping supply chains, enhance logistics planning and support critical reforms. 

 By facilitating compliance with VGM and COR regulations, Cindicium’s products bring enormous safety and productivity benefits, as well as reducing ocean pollution.

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