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Importance of declaring the correct cargo weight

Featured Image for container weight infographicMisdeclaration of container weights has been an issue that has been going on for a long time and has plagued many a shipping line, ship and port operators..

In a recent article, I wrote about the basics of container stowage planning and why it is so important..

In this article, I thought it would be worth reiterating the importance of being accurate in the declaration of the weights.. Although SOLAS VGM is in place, many people may still be using some loopholes to circumvent these protocols..

C.S. Lewis said “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching“, its something like that.. Declaring weights is something like that..

It boils down to people taking “personal” responsibility to be honest and correct in the declaration of weights whether it is verified by someone else or not..

The weight of the container affects many areas.. Primary among this is the lives of innocent seafarers and/or dock workers..

weight declarationOnboard the ship, the containers are generally stowed with the heavy containers at the bottom either on deck or under deck of the ship, and the lighter containers on top of these containers..

This is done in order to maintain the stability of the ship and achieve an even spread on board.. The stability of the ship is a VERY vital factor which is taken into consideration while planning the loading of the ship..

For example, a client has some containers that weigh 27.5 tons each but in order to save costs on overweight surcharges or weight additionals, he declares the weights as 17.5 tons..

Or there is a typo error and the weight is captured as 17.5 instead of 27.5 tons..

Based on the declarations, the shipping line will plan these containers as 17.5 tons each..

When the ships planner does the planning, following the weight categories, he is going to place the 17.5 ton containers on top of 20 ton containers..

Now if these 20 ton contrs are actually the right weight, we now have the 27.5 ton containers (misdeclared as 17.5 tons) sitting on top of a 20 ton container..

Imagine MANY containers with misdeclarations such as this on the modern day megaships capable of carrying thousands of containers

The chief officer of the ship will have a problem to try and adjust the stability because according to his calculations the ship should be stable when the cargo is planned and loaded a certain way based on the weight declarations, but in reality, because of the misdeclared weights, he is not able to get the stability right..

If the weight distribution in the stack is not adhered to as prescribed in the Cargo Securing Manual due to this misdeclaration, it may result in:

– failure in container stowage and securing devices due to overstress
– damage to containers or loss of containers overboard

If you have been following the misdeclaration chronicles on this site, you will see that there have been many cases where container weights declared vs actual has been quite different..

January 2007 – MSC Napoli: “About 660 containers stowed on deck, which had remained dry, were also weighed. The weights of 137 (20%) of these containers were more than 3 tonnes different from their declared weights. The largest difference was 20 tonnes, and the total weight of the 137 containers was 312 tonnes heavier than on the cargo manifest

container weight
Image Source: UK P&I Club – Container lashing and stowage

February 2007 – Container ship MV Limari in Damietta: Container stack collapsed due to stack overweight. The master’s incident report to the authorities notes that: “Excessively heavy units loaded in the upper tiers and that the maximum stack weight had been exceeded considerably in some rows. The effect of the overweight units was to impose excessive forces on the lashings. Further, exceeding permissible weight distribution and/or exceeding the maximum stack weight in any stack, results in overstressed stowage/securing elements and overstressed containers”.

The actual container weights were established by the devices on the gantry crane when lifting and shifting the collapsed containers. The actual container weights exceeded the declared weights by 362% (Row 08), 393% (Row 06), 407% (Row 04) and 209% (Row 02) in Bay 52 where the collapse occurred.

On MANY occasions you might have heard the shipping line give reasons such as “due to stability constraints we had to short ship your cargo”..

Weight misdeclarations are one of the MAJOR reasons for such instances as the planning is done in accordance with the weights provided by the shippers..

Although many of these issues happened prior to 2016 and there have been no serious issues reported post SOLAS VGM, these issues could still happen if customers and carriers are not vigilant and this can seriously affect the lives of the innocent seafarers on board the ships..

Not just in terms of misdeclarations to the carrier/port, customers also need to take heed of the markings on a container and ensure that they pack cargo within the weight limitations mentioned there in..

There are several weights involved in container shipments and customers need to take note of and understand these different weights..

They also need to ensure that when the container is loaded to its maximum capacity, that there is proper weight distribution across the container floorboard..

container weight
Image Source – Container Handbuch

The cargo should be covered over as many bottom rails as possible in order to absorb the load so that the weights are not concentrated on a small weight-bearing area..

There have been many cases where the bottom of the container has fallen off during operations due to the cargo weight in the container exceeding the declared weight..


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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Trucks are essential for moving goods across the country and internationally. Without trucking, our supply chains would crumble. If you don’t declare correct cargo weight then your shipment may get some damage

  2. The answer is very simple. Weight the containers as they are offloaded. The agricultural industry weigh their product when offloading, so building a scale to accomodate that is not a problem. The question is if the shippers WANT to get the right weights, then they will make a plan.

  3. Incorrect cargo weight also leads to damages to the hatch cover. The vessel’s hatch cover can only accommodate a limited tonnage per stack/Row, this is referred to has “stacking weight or pile weight” also the lashing gear used on the vessel is also restricted in terms of the lashing force, all of which is calculated using the container weight. Hence misdeclaration of container weight could also result in containers breaking of the lashing/falling of the vessel when the vessel rolls due to the excessive forces.



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