Banning dangerous cargoes not the solution to stamping out container fires

Banning dangerous cargoes is not the solution to stopping container fires, rather ensuring proper declaration and stowage according to P&I insurers the Standard Club.

Mis-declared dangerous cargoes have been in the spotlight given the number of container cargo fires in recent years that have led to major casualties, including the fatal Maersk Honam blaze last year and the Yantian Express this year.

One reaction from some container lines has been to simply ban the carriage of cargoes such as calcium hypochlorite, but Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention for the Standard Club, believes this the wrong approach.

“We see that a lot of the major container liners are banning some of the cargoes such as calcium hypochlorite. They are simply refusing to carry it – that doesn’t help. The industry need calcium hydrochloride so by banning it more shippers will simply mis-declare it and try and get it on board anyway,” Vandenborn told a Nautical Institute Conference in Singapore on Wednesday.

“And even lines who are banning it [calcium hypochlorite] may get it back anyway via slot charter who puts it on their ship and it will still be their funnel that gets on the news when the ship catches fire.”

Read more: Maersk Honam joins a growing list of horrific containership fires

He believes instead the focus needs be on ensuring that dangerous cargoes and properly declared and safely stowed. “In fact if you do declare calcium hypochlorite it is a perfectly safe cargo to carry, there are no issues with the cargo on board as long as you know you are carrying it, the problem comes when you don’t know you are carrying it.”

The Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) grouping has come up with guidelines for the carriage of dangerous cargoes and working group is also looking into stowage with a system effectively similar to a fire break where such containers are not stored next to the accommodation block or near the engine room.

Read more: Tackling misdeclared cargoes and containership fires

However, for this to work the cargoes still need to be properly declared and another working group is looking into developing software catch this problem at the booking process. “What is important to me is catching these cargoes before they come on board and that to me talks about the booking process,” Vandenborn explained.

“When these cargoes are being mis-declared at a local office not the headquarters, that’s where more checks need to be put in place where more needs to be done to try and find out how the cargoes are mis-declared.”

One of the reasons shippers deliberately mis-declare dangerous cargoes is that lines charge higher rates for their carriage than standard cargoes. Some industry sources believe that if the lines simply charged a flat rate regardless of cargo type it would remove the reason to mis-declare dangerous cargoes, however, lines would be unlikely to make such a change that would result in a loss of additional revenue.

Posted 16 May 2019

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Marcus Hand

Editor, Seatrade Maritime News

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