TT Talk - Dangerous goods centre stage
It has been a torrid year for cargo-related containership fires, with reported incidents averaging every 30 days and bucking the twenty plus year frequency of roughly every 60 days.
“The casualty rate in 2019… highlights the need to galvanise actions to improve safety, protecting lives and the environment, as well as ships, cargo and equipment.”
The casualty rate in 2019 is not a comfortable reality for any industry stakeholder – whether the shipper community, logistics and ship operators or the diverse range of insurance providers – and highlights the need to galvanise actions to improve safety, protecting lives and the environment, as well as ships, cargo and equipment.
While full details of the incidents this year – and indeed those occurring through 2018 – will take time to be confirmed and emerge in the public domain (possibly through litigation), too many have been reliably reported to concern shipments of charcoal. This commodity (or perhaps more precisely range of commodities, since the uses vary between barbeque fuel through water filtration to medical applications) has proved troublesome for the shipping industry for some time – and has featured here previously.
The charcoal debate
It may be unsurprising, therefore, that the way charcoal (or technically ‘carbon’ from the French) is to be treated in the supply chain, and specifically the maritime mode, will again be considered at the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC) this month. The topic was initiated by a detailed report issued by the German maritime authority arising from investigations into two ship fire incidents. The crucial issue at stake related to the application of a Special Provision (SP925), which, where applicable, exempts the shipment from the rigours of the dangerous goods regulations. For current purposes, the findings of the investigations can be summarised as:
- testing in relation to self-heating gave inconsistent results; and
- linkage between testing and specific consignments was not always possible.
Without becoming too technical, a German submission to CCC is recommending that the IMDG Code1 no longer permit the transport of charcoal as non-hazardous and that additional steps are taken in relation to stowage on board ships. Importantly, the submission seeks to delete SP925, albeit it proceeds to propose a new Special Provision. In a commenting submission, ICHCA, with support from TT Club, agrees with the basic premise that charcoal should always be considered as dangerous and the deletion of the Special Provision, but not the creation of a new one. This discussion has short term impact, since the outcome will be reflected in the forthcoming version of the IMDG Code (Amendment 40-20) that, while only entering mandatory force on 1 January 2022, will be finalised this year.
The current complexity – and concern – in relation to the carriage of charcoal/carbon in containers is set out in the guidelines published by CINS and the International Group of P&I Clubs . Since something in excess of 50% of the global trade, valued in 2018 at more than USD775 million, is carried by sea for at least part of its journey, safety in the maritime mode has to be a significant issue.
Abuse of Special Provisions
The concerns relating to Special Provisions in general (and SP925 specifically) are raised in a further document that has broad industry support, including TT Club working with ICHCA, submitted by Liberia and no less than seven NGOs2. This addresses the inherent problem of non-declaration and misdeclaration of dangerous goods and proposes a comprehensive review of the maritime SPs in the IMDG Code. Incident reports demonstrate that the SPs in question have been abused as a basis for exempting shipments from the safety provisions of the Code, when in fact the goods were subsequently proven to be dangerous.
“Incident reports demonstrate that the SPs in question have been abused as a basis for exempting shipments from the safety provisions of the Code”
While the outcome of such a comprehensive review cannot be fully anticipated, it would be most welcome in reducing areas of uncertainty and opportunities, whether inadvertent or deliberate, that prevent carriers and other stakeholders in the supply chain from taking actions to ensure proper and safe handling and stowage of cargo reflecting the real presented hazards. Such issues lie at the heart of TT Club’s #Fit4Freight ‘cargo integrity’ campaign; while this campaign extends well beyond those goods that are classified as dangerous, the truth remains that dangerous goods, whether declared correctly or not, impose a disproportionate burden on the shipping industry when measured by incident statistics.
Commonality with bulk shipments
Although containerised traffic is clearly important to the work of CCC, it should not go without comment that its remit extends also to bulk cargoes, covered under the IMSBC Code3. The risks arising from the unpredictable cocktail of commodities prevalent in box carriage is in bulk trades replaced by issues of liquefaction and, to some extent, self-heating, in addition to enclosed space hazards. Submissions at this session of CCC on these issues are particularly poignant in the weeks following another tragic sinking of a bulk carrier. The common threads of misdeclaration, compilation of safety data sheets, and imprecise or inconsistent testing are overly striking.
“The common threads of misdeclaration, compilation of safety data sheets, and imprecise or inconsistent testing are overly striking”
We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Risk Management Director, TT Club
1International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code; see ‘Book it right and pack it tight’ for more detail
TT Talk 254 Chinese Translation (601 KB)
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Apart from the recent devastating explosion in Beirut, there has been a spate of ro-ro/car carrier fires in recent months, leading to fresh calls for improvements, scrutiny and control in relation to dangerous goods (DG). Container ship fires are always in mind.