The issue of container fires started as a result of misdeclared dangerous cargoes remains a serious one for the sector and since 2011 some 17 container lines have come together as the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) to try and tackle the problem.
“How often do we see a contaienrship on fire? It’s worryingly frequent,” Alvin Forster, deputy director (loss prevention) for North P&I, says in an interview. The group also includes the Interntional Group (IG) of P&I Clubs, which has seen the involment of North P&I.
The tragic fire earlier this year onboard the 15,262 teu capacity containership Maersk Honam that left five of the 27 crew dead was likely caused by a misdeclared cargo. And there has been a history of many such serious fires onboard containerships.
“So as group they’ve developed guidelines for the container operators the carriage of calcium hypochlorite, which is the one that has been misdeclared years and as well charcoal,” he explains.
The revised version 3.0 of CINS/IG P&I Clubs guidelines for the carriage of calcium hypchlorite in containers was published earlier this year. It essentially represents and IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) Code plus with limits on the quantity of the cargo that be carried in an individual container.
However, both the guidelines and the IMDG Code are reliant on the shipper declaring that the goods are dangerous cargoes in the first place, and misdeclaration remains a major issue for lines.
“What they have been doing is declaring it as something else so its not classed as a dangerous cargo,” he says. “This is all reliant on the shipper declaring it as dangerous goods and shippers don’t want to declare it because its cheaper and you can carry more per container.”
In the case of charcoal cargoes a laboratory test from the shipper is enough that it does need to be classed as a dangerous cargo. “It’s relying on the competent authority of the country. Taking Indonesian charcoal if it passes a laborotory test it can be declared as a normal cargo not as dangerous goods. So charcoal cargoes are being shipped without any control,” Forster says.