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Preventing container fires – enforcement of regulations ‘critically important’

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Enforcement of regulations is “critically important” in the issue of tackling container fires, says mutual insurer TT Club.

Container fires can lead to both loss of life and huge cargo losses as result of dangerous cargoes that mis-declared, in some cases on purpose to avoid higher fees for the shipping of hazardous goods.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club’s Risk Management Director, told a webinar on container fires held by the club earlier this week, that as much of 15% of containers could contain dangerous cargoes, if fraudulently mis-declared cargoes are included.   

Storrs-Fox highlighted the need for enforcement of regulations. “Enforcement is critically important and I think the industry needs to see governments and regulatory authorities stepping up their responsibilities to take enforcement actions to ensure we are able to work together in a collective way,” he said.

While calling for enforcement of regulations he also noted they were “extremely complex and require diligence and expertise to follow them”, and that the wording of them was open to interpretation even among experts.

This then combines with a high fragmented stakeholder pool, and customer relationships that requires container lines not only to know who the direct customer is, but also the indirect customer.

“Fragmented stakeholder pool the particularly poignant when we look at the totality of what we are trying to do here with regard to shipments with regard to shipments onboard the largest container ships… we may literally be talking of tens of thousands of different commodities, which even if they are accurately declared could react with others,” Storrs-Fox said.

Lines have increasingly sought technological solutions such as dangerous goods compliance software and IoT onboard to try and ensure safe shipment of dangerous goods, however, he warned the use of technology comes with its own challenges.

“With deploying technology the danger is computers believe people as much as people believe computers. It’s a dangerous mixture when dealing with the complexities of safe and certain shipping and requires particularly the humans to sceptical about what they are seeing,” Storrs-Fox said.