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More deaths from ore cargoes
Originally published:  01/02/2011
The UK P&I Club has issued two Loss Prevention Bulletins drawing attention to continued safety problems during the carriage of metal ores in bulk by sea. In particular, the Club highlights the loss of three vessels – Jian Fu Star, Nasco Diamond and Hong Wei – each of which sank while carrying nickel ore from Indonesia to China during the fourth quarter of 2010. The three casualties involved the loss of 44 seafarers.
While the cause of these ship losses has not been definitively determined, the Club notes that nickel ore – like iron ore fines and a number of concentrates – has the potential to liquefy during transport if the moisture content of the cargo exceeds a certain point at the time of loading. Liquefaction of such a cargo can result in a dramatic loss of vessel stability.
The Club also reports that a number of other casualties have involved cargoes of nickel ore loaded in Indonesia or the Philippines, while not leading to the loss of the vessel. Liquefaction can be caused by the normal conditions of carriage at sea, the Club warns. It raised concerns about these losses during a meeting of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) maritime Safety Committee this past November 24 to December 3, and was supported by the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo). The Association reported that some of its members had been put under pressure to accept shippers’ declarations and test reports without being permitted the opportunity to verify those declarations and reports.
There are particular problems in Indonesia and the Philippines that may contribute to the hazards. The facilities at the loading ports are often rudimentary, with cargo awaiting loading potentially being left uncovered and exposed to the prevailing weather conditions. The mines are mostly remote and it is difficult for independent surveyors to take samples; moreover, there are few if any independent laboratories and it may be only the mine’s own laboratory that has access to the necessary testing equipment. In addition, there seems to have been a change in the regional climate in recent years and the traditional dry season between February and May can no longer be relied upon.
The Club points to the provisions of the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code, which places a responsibility on the shipper to provide information to the master. However, given the problems encountered by vessel operators, the Club encourages its members to review steps that might be taken to protect the vessel, including the appointment of an independent surveyor to assist the master. However, it should be made clear to the competent authority and the shipper that such an appointment does not relieve the shipper of his obligations under the IMSBC Code or local regulations.
The UK P&I Club has also highlighted concerns over the mis-declaration of direct reduced iron (DRI) cargoes from Venezuela. As the carriage of DRI is usually more expensive than the carriage of iron ore fines, due to the need to blanket the cargo with an inert atmosphere, and bearing in mind that Venezuelan DRI normally has a lower iron content than DRI shipped elsewhere, some third-party sellers describe the cargo as iron ore fines.
Most of the terminals and iron ore producers in Venezuela sell their product ‘Ex Work’ (EXW); this means their responsibility finishes when the cargo is delivered to the berth. Also, it is rare to find these companies selling directly on the world market – there are often intermediaries involved. This makes it unclear as to which party has the responsibility under the terms of the IMSBC Code to provide the vessel with information about the cargo.
The Club points out that most Venezuelan terminals do not sell iron ore fines; only one terminal – Ferrominera – is known to export DRI. If a shipper declares a cargo from another port to be DRI then great care should be taken. The vessel operator should in all instances request a full chemical analysis of the cargo being offered, to include both the total iron content and the metallic iron content, and details of the standards followed to obtain the samples for analysis. The Club also recommends the appointment of a suitable third party surveyor to check the cargo prior to the vessel’s arrival in port.