The International Group of P&I Clubs and the shipping line members of the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) have recently produced a new set of guidelines for the carriage of calcium hypochlorite in containers.
UK Club risk assessor, David Nichol, discusses why it was considered necessary to update guidance for a cargo with a history of being implicated in ship fires as well as the wider problem of the mis-declaration of dangerous goods.
If a fire breaks out at sea, the crew do not have the option of simply evacuating the building and waiting for the fire brigade to turn up. The crew have to deal with it themselves. Locating the exact source of a fire on board a fully laden container ship and fighting it with the limited manpower and resources available is a daunting task for the crew.
It is imperative for the safety of the ship and crew that all necessary steps are taken to handle and stow dangerous goods in such a way that reduces the risk of an emergency incident and that in the event of fire, the crew have the information they need to respond quickly with the appropriate fire fighting measures.
To enable this, a ship’s master must be provided with a correct, universally recognised description of the goods and the potential hazards they may present.
During David’s time as a ship surveyor, he was involved in the investigation of a violent explosion and fire on board a container ship transiting the Mediterranean Sea. The incident led to the deaths of a number of crew members and caused extensive structural damage to the ship.
It was determined that the explosion was the result of inflammable gas within one of the holds which was ignited by the crew performing maintenance on deck. The gas had leaked from a number of containers stuffed with Expandable Polystyrene Beads, which may not seem particularly hazardous to the layman but is a material containing heavier than air pentane capable of being released during storage.
Although this was a cargo requiring particular carriage requirements and precautions, it had not been properly declared or labelled as such by the shipper.
Ship owners have always faced the possibility of shippers presenting goods that are unsafe for sea carriage. It is an established principle in maritime law as enshrined in the Hague Visby Rules that a shipper is under a duty not to load dangerous goods without the carriers knowledge and consent.
The master of a ship cannot be an expert in this respect and his practical ability to assess the safety of a commodity is heavily reliant upon its description as furnished by the shipper and its apparent external markings and condition.
If a fire breaks out at sea, the crew do not have the option of simply evacuating the building and waiting for the fire brigade to turn up.
Shipping cargo in closed containers, which may be stuffed at locations remote from sea ports well beyond the control of the carrier means that the master is as dependent as ever upon the accuracy of the cargo description.