Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Dangerous deck cargo?

Posted on | September 12, 2011 | No Comments

In the frenetic rush to get a big containership through a terminal, is there enough time to consider exactly what nasties might be in the boxes that are classified as dangerous deck cargo?

I am reminded in the pre-container days, when we were completing our outbound load, the company used to convene our “sailing meeting” when some company bigwig would occupy us, while the dockers loaded the cargo the master would almost certainly have objected to carrying. That was small beer, just a few drums, cases or carboys of deck cargo, which was always stowed against a section of moveable rail, so that it could be easily kicked over the side if it started to emit sparks, smoke, or smoulder.

The latest Nautical Institute MARS Report contains a note extracted from the Britannia P&I Club Risk Watch which details a nasty few hours after a container full of drums of Aluminium Phosphide started to exhibit warning signs or fire and explosion. Loaded in an Asian port, and with the cargo correctly declared at the time of shipment, neither the carrier nor the crew had been provided with the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet. Seeing smoke issuing from the seals of the container and hearing muffled explosions ( really the lids popping off the drums) from inside, the crew started boundary cooling, and the ship was diverted.

The crew was unaware that contact between water and aluminium phosphide produces phosphine, an extremely flammable and toxic gas.  Had the crew stuck a lance into the container and started to spray the chemicals, as they might well have done, the results could have been catastrophic.  Even when the vessel reached port and emergency workers started to sort out the problem the shipper still failed to produce the correct MSDS, which seemed to indicate a supremely cavalier attitude to the health of everyone.

It is however pointed out that even without the correct MSDS, the crew should not have been unaware of the characteristics of what it was they were carrying from the ship’s IMDG  Code, which could have told them what to do in the circumstances. It makes clear that before shipping dangerous goods the crews should understand what it is they are confronting, and be properly trained in the emergency action to be taken.  But the question must be, that in the general rush to exchange cargo, is this requirement ever properly undertaken?

I only ask because I want to know.

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