Freight News, Sea

Container fires: much work still to do

[ March 20, 2019   //   ]

Recent container ship fires have focussed attention on the incorrect processing of dangerous goods and given new impetus to the nascent Cargo Integrity campaign initiated by the TT Club, says the transport and logistics insurer.

The recent fire aboard Yantian Express, details of the final judgment on the  MSC Flaminia explosion in July 2012, and the ongoing investigation into the ‘Maersk Honan’ fire have been followed, just days ago, by the news by a container fire and subsequent sinking of the Grande America in the Bay of Biscay.

TT Club says that these serious incidents “are merely the tip of a failing safety iceberg”. The Club estimates that a major container ship fire at sea occurs on average every 60 days, pointing out that there have already been four major cargo-related fire incidents in 2019.  It records indicate that 66% of incidents can be attributed to poor packing; not just in securing cargo but also cargo identification, declaration, documentation and effective data transfer.

TT Club puts the  cost of claims at over half a billion dollars a year.

TT Club’s risk management director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox, says: “One particularly critical aspect of this is the correct declaration and handling of dangerous goods (DG).”

While exact data is hard to come by, ICHCA International, the cargo handling operatives association has calculated that of the 60 million packed containers moved each year, 10% or six million are declared as DG.  And information from published government suggests that 20% of these are poorly packed or incorrectly identified.  This translates into 1.3 million potentially unstable DG containers traveling around the world each year.

However, Storrs-Fox emphasises that this does not take into account  undeclared or misdeclared DG consignments. Hapag-Lloyd’s profiling algorithm for potential misdeclaration of commodities suggests a reasonable estimate of over 150,000 volatile containers each year.

The shipping industry’s Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) has successfully identified a number of commodities that commonly cause problems during transport – not always limited to those formally identified as dangerous.  TT Club, UK P&I Club and Exis Technologies have also promoted the Hazcheck Restrictions Portal, which identifies and streamlines the regulations and protocols imposed by carriers and ports on declared dangerous goods.

However, Storrs-Fox concludes: “There is very much still to be done in achieving true Cargo Integrity. Our diverse campaign is seeking significant cultural and behavioural change to say the least.  Certain elements may require legislative action, enforcement and inspection and there are great challenges in the field of technological development.  Above all there is a need for all involved in the supply chain to have a realistic perception of risk and a responsible attitude towards liability.”