First there was VGM. Is CTU around the corner?

Shippers struggling to cope with the July 1 container weight rule could face even tougher requirements if international authorities move to turn cargo loading-and-securing guidelines into global industry mandates.

The “light touch” period for enforcement of the International Maritime Organization’s Verified Gross Mass (VGM) requirement concluded Oct. 1. The period ended without a much-feared disruption of global supply chains – but also without a clear picture of how well or poorly shippers are complying with the new requirement.

American Shipper reported that World Shipping Council data showed compliance for the VGM rule rose to about 95 percent. At the same time, the magazine noted deep skepticism among insurers and risk management specialists, who question whether declared VGMs are accurate and represent “the result of an actual weighing process.”

The painful adoption of the VGM rule could foreshadow deeper pain if the three UN agencies that set standards for shipping turn their non-mandatory code for loading and securing of cargo into a mandatory requirement.

Trucks, Rail & Ocean

If mandated, the code – known as the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units, or CTU Code – “would be far more disruptive and have a much greater effect than the VGM rule,” says Sue Terpilowski, Managing Director of Image Line, a UK-based maritime and logistics consultant. “The IMO and other authorities want to change shippers’ behavior to improve safety and operational performance in the supply chain. The best way for the industry to avoid a costly, difficult mandate is to act now ourselves.”

The CTU Code applies to the containers, truck trailers and rail cars used for ocean and land shipments. Terpilowski says it’s clear that not everybody is following the guidelines. “There are too many incidents that can be traced to poor packing, inadequate securing of cargo, overloading, and incorrect declaration of contents.”

Estimates indicate 65 percent of cargo accidents result in loss or damage to the cargo and about a third stem from poor packing. The consequences for shippers, carriers and their insurance companies are significant.

Common Sense

The CTU Code is detailed and comprehensive, but it contains a number of common sense practices, advising shippers, consolidators, road and rail haulers, and other third-party packers to:

  • Arrange for a safe working environment
  • Check that the container, truck or rail car – and securing equipment – are in sound condition
  • Select the most appropriate CTU type for the specific cargo
  • Pack dangerous goods near the doors of the CTU where possible
  • Not concentrate heavy cargo over small areas of the floor
  • Not use securing or protection equipment that is incompatible with the cargo
  • Affix required placards, marks and signs on the exterior of the CTU

“If everyone involved in supply chains adopts the principles in the code and embeds them in their procedures and way of behaving then the IMO will have no grounds to make it mandatory,” Terpilowski says.

For more on CTU guidelines, go to: International Maritime Organisation and