Safety at Sea

Cargoes and the potential for catastrophe

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 March 2019

Cargoes and the potential for catastrophe

The potential for cargoes to create hazardous situations for the ship either because of inherent properties or because of deliberate acts by shippers to circumvent rules is something that has long been recognised.

Understanding that certain cargoes have characteristics that can endanger lives or pose a threat to the ship is something that is both taught and learned through experience. Experience of the threats need not mean having been exposed to them directly but having worked with people who have explained what precautions they are taking and why.

Unfortunately, the rapid career progress of many seafarers means that their opportunities to learn through experience can be somewhat limited. The matter is one that has been recognised by the IMO which has established the Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC) which operates under instructions from both the MSC and the MEPC and which has produced several guides and codes, many of which are mandatory to follow.

All seagoing personnel with responsibility for cargoes are expected to be aware of the relevant codes, publications and sources of advice and to follow them when carrying such cargoes. Clearly some of the rules and advice will not apply to all ship types. Also of use is the special advice promulgated to members by P&I clubs and other industry bodies.

Because both the SOLAS and MARPOL conventions are involved, some of the regulations are concerned more with environmental matters than safety, but most of the documents will contain a mix of both and are therefore essential sources of safety advice.

The subject of cargo safety is extremely wide and to cover it comprehensively is beyond the scope of this guide. Cargoes can cause loss of life and ships in many ways. Shifting cargo is cited in many ship losses and, while the problems of certain cargoes as regards angles of repose and propensity to shift are well known, it seems that in recent years an inordinate number of lives have been lost due to ships capsizing following liquefaction of nickel ore and other similar cargoes.

Last year (2018) the IMO issued a new edition of the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) listing almost 400 solid bulk materials and providing information on specific hazards they may present and the precautions to be observed. Where a cargo is not listed in the IMSBC Code, the shipper must obtain a certificate setting out the conditions under which it may be shipped from the competent authority of the port of loading. There is also an onus on shippers who must now provide the master with the Shipper’s Form for Cargo Information declaring details of any special properties of the cargo that the master needs to know so as to implement the precautions required for its safe shipment. This was a timely development given that last year was the worst in over 20 years in terms of numbers of seafarers and shore personnel who had died while handling solid bulk cargoes.

As well as the new IMSBC Code, at MSC 100 the IMO approved draft amendments to the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code), with a view to subsequent adoption. The draft amendments include draft revised chapters 17 (Summary of minimum requirements), 18 (List of products to which the code does not apply), 19 (Index of products carried in bulk) and 21 (Criteria for assigning carriage requirements for products subject to the IBC Code), as well as draft new paragraph 15.15 (Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) detection equipment for bulk liquids). Further amendments are consequential to draft amendments to MARPOL Annex II. Associated amendments to the BCH Code were approved for adoption in conjunction with the adoption of the IBC Code amendments.