Mitigating the Risks of Bulk Cargo Liquefaction, Steel Cargo issues and Container Loss

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Cargo loss and damage incidents form a significant proportion of Solis Marine’s investigation work, from both a dispute resolution perspective and in relation to salvage and wreck removal situations.

Captain Paul Walton, who has joined Solis Marine as a Consultant Master Mariner, discusses potentially dangerous bulk mineral cargo issues and how more needs to be done to adhere to the IMO, International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code and Supplement 2020 (IMSBC). He also discusses the risks that exist with the loading of steel cargoes and the loading, securing and carriage of containers.

With the export of nickel and other ores, the risks and dangers of cargo liquefaction cannot be over stressed. It is a hazard that is familiar to Captain Paul Walton who witnessed first-hand the risk to lives during his seafaring career back in the mid-90s. He has also had to deal with the unfortunate outcomes on many occasions as a marine consultant.

Almost 25 years on, locally unregulated markets still exist which allow mines to pay lip service to the measures they should follow to ensure that wet ore doesn’t liquefy on passage.

Certificates issued by local mines stating the Flow Moisture Point have been found by independent analysis to be in error up to 10%. Such a significant factor can put lives and ships in danger.

The IMSBC Code provides clear and concise instructions to help shippers and the masters of vessels avoid the dangers, however liquefaction remains all too common, especially when commercial pressures to load cargo quickly can result in corners being cut.

The outcome can be catastrophic. If a bulk cargo liquefies it can shift due to the free surface effect within the ship’s hold, leading to a loss of stability which can potentially result in the ship capsizing even when the weather conditions during a passage are only moderate.

“Often mines are not regulated federally and therefore, there is clearly a need for independent local regulations to monitor and ensure the mines carry out the correct analysis of ore, to establish that the moisture content is below the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML) prior to loading,” said Paul.

“There are still mines that are paying lip service to the tests which might not be carried out at all, not completed to the proper standards or within the required time period. Adherence to the established test requirements would make it much safer for seafarers and ships.”

To tackle these problems, the shipping industry needs to better understand the material behaviour of solid bulk cargoes now being transported and prescribe the proper testing.
That is where Paul and Solis Marine come in as mitigating risk is a speciality.

“Lives will be saved if regular use of the IMSBC Code supplementary ‘Can Tests’ are carried out onboard, by the crew, and the results recorded and photographed, before vessels leave port. It is a basic, simple and effective early indication that there MAY be a problem. Loading however should be stopped until an independent analysis can be carried out,” said Paul.

Conducting this simple test onboard, regardless of what the cargo documentation might say, could avoid disaster and potential loss of life.

Improving break bulk Cargo Stowage and mitigating the risk of Container Loss

Another area of major concern is poor stowage and incorrect securing of cargo on ships loading steel and break bulk cargoes which is regularly encountered in the Far East, and China in particular.

Steel cargoes are often loaded to the maximum onboard permissible loading per square metre, which is not an issue for bulk cargoes, but can be for steel cargoes which can have a high point loading which is often in excess of that figure. This can result in serious deformation of the tank top plating and failure of the vessel’s structural support.

“During my time in the Far East I regularly encountered inadequate securing materials and securing methods of breakbulk cargoes. This was because the vessel’s approved Cargo Securing Manual and the IMO Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS) Code were not followed as they should have been. Inevitably, when severe weather conditions were encountered, this led to securing component failure resulting in cargo shift, damage and loss” said Paul.

There have also been a number of recent high-profile container losses off the coast of Australia that have increased liability to the carrier due to the requirement of AMSA that all lost containers have to be recovered. The same situation is also progressively being mirrored in other countries.

Severe weather is often the catalyst for container loss, but during the subsequent investigations it is frequently discovered that the fixed and portable lashing equipment was worn and had not been adequately renewed, and/or the lashing arrangements were not in compliance of the securing regulations.

In the event of cargo shift, damage and/or loss as a result of inappropriate stowage, poor securing, inadequate materials and severe weather conditions, Solis Marine’s experts combine their naval architecture knowledge and master mariner expertise to carry out in depth analysis of an incident to establish probable cause and liability.

“I’d like to see all ships following the rules and regulations rather than cutting corners in a mistaken effort to save on time and costs. If the IMO CSS Code was better observed, this would make a significant difference to the number of incidents and expensive recovery costs,” said Paul.

With experienced mariners located in Shanghai, Singapore and the UK and naval architects in the UK, Solis Marine is well placed to provide practical on-site, and remote, advice to assist with the planning, loading, securing, carriage and discharge of all types of cargoes.

Cargo issues encountered in China and container loss are two of the topics covered in Solis Marine’s new webinar series providing technical advice to clients across a range of different subjects.

To find out more and book a webinar, please click here.

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