Solid bulk cargo liquefaction: cross industry scientific research study considers strategies to improve safety record

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By Naval Architect Riccardo Gnocchi

Solid bulk cargo liquefaction in ships has been responsible for the loss of more than 100 seafarers’ lives and nine bulk carriers in the last decade. This corresponds to 10% of recorded bulk carrier losses and 50% of fatalities, indicating the seriousness of vessel loss due to cargo liquefaction.

Now a global consortium of cross industry partners has been convened to address the problem. The objective is to develop new safety protocols and operational controls to save lives and reduce vessel losses by sharing knowledge and expertise.

This will be achieved by enhancing safety on land and at sea through culturally and situationally relevant technological, educational and regulatory solutions that are evidence based to improve understanding of risk and access to information.

The three year project is being led and coordinated by the Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute, University of Southampton and funded by the Lloyds Register Foundation.

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An important aspect is the extent of cross industry participation. The consortium underpinning the work spans mining companies, ship owners, trade associations, insurers, a class society, lawyers, consultants, testing houses, a regulator, NGOs and academics from UK and international institutions with a range of discipline expertise across the physical and social sciences and law.

Solis Marine has also become one of the partners, providing insights on what we can learn from the better use of marine data, traffic analysis and ship design. Consultant Master Mariner Captain Paul Walton is also advising on prevention, cause and effect from a master’s perspective.

Through our incident investigation work we have dealt with a number of liquefaction cases and provided expert independent advice in relation to the practical aspects in dealing with bulk cargoes that have liquefied as well as the effects on vessel stability.

Due to the serious nature of this issue in terms of how quickly vessels can be lost, we see multiple benefits, primarily with a view to preventing further loss of life, but also in relation to:

  • Greater understanding of the mechanism by which cargos liquefy
  • Greater understanding of how ship stability is affected by liquefaction and how this can be addressed in vessel design or through other measures
  • Improved guidance to vessel crews in relation to how to handle cargo believed to be unsafe
  • Improved understanding of the causes of losses due to liquefaction
  • Better use of marine data to understand the scale of the problem, the causes and possible areas for mitigation

With a plan of research, education, communication and operational protocols now in place, we are ready to move forward with the other key stakeholders into the next stage of this important study.

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Mitigating the risks of cargo liquefaction

You can read Captain Paul Walton’s recent article on mitigating the risks of cargo liquefaction here.

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