Gross overloading - who is responsible?

Jan 25, 2003
Author: P&S

Who should be held accountable for the gross overloading of containers carried by our ships, on the roads or by rail?

That is the serious question being asked after traffic police and weighbridge authorities stopped a truck and trailer at the Durban Bayhead Weighbridge on 23 January 2003 and found it to have a gross overload of 29 tonnes, more than 60 percent over its permissible limit.

The truck and trailer, belonging to a Durban road haulier named Tristar, was carrying two 6m containers that had been discharged from a Safmarine container ship at the Durban container terminal. They were being transported across town for transhipment at Maydon Wharf.

According to documents made available by the Durban Weighbridge, the truck and trailer was overloaded by 29 tonnes. This is believed to be the highest ship’s container overload ever recorded in KwaZulu Natal.

After signalling the vehicle off the road weighbridge officials immediately noticed that something was amiss, as the vehicle showed clear signs of distress. A closer examination revealed a bent axle, several tyres with worn tread and canvass showing, including a distinct hole in one tyre, and a landing leg bracket supported by string!

Details as provided show:

a] Steering axle: actual mass 6,500 kg legal
b] Drive axles: actual mass 31,380kg. Overloaded by 13,380kg.
c] Trailer axles: actual mass 38,320kg. Overloaded by 14,320kg.
d] Legal gross mass: 47,190kg. Actual mass: 76,200kg. Overloaded by 29,010kg (percentage overload on gross mass 61.5 percent).

Supporting documents issued by the shipping line gave the net mass of the two containers as 5,000kg per 6m container, i.e. approximately 7,300kg each, which gives a total of 14,600kg for the two.

“Given this declared mass, the transporter would have been entitled to use a tandem axle trailer, which would have made the overload that much worse,” Kevin Martin of the Harbour Carriers Association told Ports and Ships.

“Fortunately they elected to use a triaxle trailer capable of taking a 30t payload, which was double the declared mass.”

Martin is vice-chairman of the Harbour Carriers Association and was called to the scene by weighbridge authorities.

“From the above it appears the transporter did not intend to load illegally and could in many ways be seen as the innocent victim, although the quality and competency of his driver is however a matter of concern as he effectively had a double payload of approximately 60t on his back, whilst the tyres showed clear signs of distress due to the overload.”

Martin pointed out that apart from the obvious overload damage to the roads, the vehicle was operating on a public road well beyond its design capacity, which includes steering and braking, and that this posed a very real risk to the lives of the public.

But, he maintains, for too long transporters have been supplied with either incorrect documents or insufficient information, which is due to ignorance or in some cases intentional.

“No one shipping line or client is to blame, as it is widespread throughout the industry. The bottom line however remains that the police only have legal recourse to the driver and the vehicle operator. The standpoint is that a major infringement has occurred – the who, when, what, why is not their concern.”

Was this a clerical error by a client or the shipping line’s clerk? At this stage nobody can say, although it is an accepted fact that clerical errors on documents submitted to Customs attract some very real and serious financial penalties, and these are errors that can simply deprive the state of revenue. In the current case the error could cost lives, and these go even beyond those affected by the vehicle transporting the containers by road.

The implications of incorrect mass given to shipping lines by their clients also endangers the stability of ships, and therefore carry even more serious consequences, although as Martin points out this is something that can only be addressed by the shipping lines themselves.

The fact of the matter is that too few containers are ever checked to see if the given mass is correct.

“I do not believe the excuse that it was only a clerical error is going to hold much water to a family burying family members killed needlessly because a truck could not stop,” says Martin. “And what about the driver and his family? For this reason I stand 100 percent behind the traffic authorities in this matter and hope the maximum penalty of a R120 000 fine they intend asking for is given because of the serious nature of the offence.”

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