Urgent Reforms Needed to Address Shipment of Dangerous Goods

poorly stowed, undeclared and misdeclared dangerous cargos are creating an increasing risk
The 2018 fire on the Maersk Honam is used to illustrate the fire danger

Published Jul 8, 2020 6:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Poorly stowed, undeclared or misdeclared dangerous cargos are causing an increasing number of containership incidents according to a new white paper released by the National Cargo Bureau. The U.S. inspection bureau is calling for urgent reform to achieve industry-wide compliance to create an enhanced internal safety culture for the cargo industry.

 “The link between undeclared, misdeclared or poorly stowed dangerous cargoes and the increased incidence of catastrophic containership fires is hard to ignore,” says NCB President Ian J. Lennard. “Because of the clear and present risk predominately to the safety of life but also to ships, their cargoes, and the environment, we are calling for all supply chain participants to work on a solution together.”

According to the Bureau, recent inspection initiatives revealed an alarming number of containers included misdeclared dangerous cargoes that represent a serious safety risk. On average, a containership suffers a major fire every 60 days, but the white paper suggests that the frequency of incidents is increasing. In 2019, they cited nine major containership fires.

As an example of the fire danger, the paper illustrates the well-known case of the Maersk Honam, the 15,266 TEU vessel that caught fire on March 16, 2018. Five crew members were killed in the incident and all of the cargo forward of the superstructure was severely damaged. While the cause of the fire has not been determined, the paper says it is suspected that undeclared or misdeclared danger cargo was involved in the incident that also caused $30 million in damage to the vessel.

Last year, the NCB says it conducted more than 32,000 dangerous dry and tank goods inspections in the U.S. finding that nearly eight percent were non-compliant due to poor stowage/securing, misdeclared cargo or other issues. Further, in a recent container inspection safety initiative involving 500 containers, the NBC says 55 percent failed to comply, including 43 percent for poor securing of cargo within the container. More than six percent of the containers carrying dangerous goods had been misdeclared.

The NCB also points to that the increasing number of containers being carried along with the trend for larger containerships saying it is “exacerbating and concentrating the risk.”

“The reasons for issues with dangerous cargoes are diverse and include a challenging regulatory environment; cargo prohibitions; more complex supply chains; and varied levels of understanding and processes,” says Lennard. “Because of this, it is important that the stakeholders work together and adopt a range of measures that will address all potential causes.” 

The white paper cites the difficulty of supply chain stakeholders to comply with a myriad of regulations along with a poor understanding of what constitutes a dangerous cargo and the requirements to transport dangerous cargoes. They also say that the increasing complexity of multi-modal supply chains, carriers, and port restrictions, and internal corporate structures all contribute to the growing problem.

The NCB outlines 12 recommendations designed to create a better safety culture and combat this increasing risk. The NBC says it starts with establishing a corporate culture of compliance, having training programs, and establishing dangerous goods departments to manage these shipments. They are also recommending having cut-off times for accepting dangerous shipments as well as enhanced documentation processes. They say that dangerous goods container inspection programs, vessel inspections, and a risk-based strategy for stowage of dangerous goods are required.

The development of a robust safety culture with strong management backing is critical to the successful implementation and ongoing effectiveness of a company’s dangerous goods program the NCB concludes. However, by adopting its recommendations, the NCB is confident that the number of maritime incidents directly related to the carriage of undeclared, misdeclared, and other non-compliant dangerous goods will be reduced.