Recalling that several explosions rocked the Port of Tianjin, China, in August 2015, killing 173 people, an international cargo-handling safety advocacy group has called for efforts to curb inaccurate declaration of containerized dangerous goods.
The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association, a nonprofit that works to improve the safety, security, sustainability, productivity and efficiency of cargo handling, says there must be greater enforcement of existing regulations governing safe shipment of goods.
At a recent seminar, ICHCA members said the Tianjin port disaster must spur a collective effort to address misdeclaration and other key shipping risks.
The second of the two explosions at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin involved detonation of about 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Fires caused by the initial explosions continued to burn throughout the weekend, causing eight additional blasts on Aug. 15.
While many good initiatives are now underway to ensure the safe transport of dangerous cargoes along the container supply chain, much more still needs to be done to raise awareness of the risks, enforce the rules, simplify guidance documents and ensure better dissemination of good practice from first to last mile. This was the consensus among members of industry, legislators, policy makers and enforcing authorities who gathered in London in March at ICHCA International’s Packaged Dangerous Goods seminar. Dangerous goods make up an estimated 10 to 12 percent of global container trade — accounting for potentially up to 6 million or more shipments a year.
Bingbing Song, technical officer at the International Maritime Organization, said compliance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code was mandatory, as opposed to the newer Code of Practice for Safe Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code). Yet, while the IMDG Code has been adopted by 172 countries, non-compliance feedback to the IMO is low, with only five reports submitted last year. He urged authorities to address the issue as non-compliance reports are crucial to identifying and addressing the major safety risks worldwide.
Dangerous goods are of fundamental concern to insurers, said Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club risk management director. He called on industry and regulators to explore how “big data” technology can be leveraged to drive improved safety. He said that fires and poor packing predominate in dangerous goods incidents. TT Club analysis shows that these two causes consistently appear in the top five that account for two thirds of the claims over the last five years; it is estimated that the supply chain industry loses $500m a year due to packing failures alone.
He also said that in each of the last two years there have been at least 20 major ship or shore-based fires, a high proportion of which were related to dangerous goods.
Misdeclaration, whether from fraud or miscommunication, is among the key risk factors, according to Ken Rohlmann, senior director at Hapag-Lloyd and vice chairman of the container shipping industry’s Cargo Incident Notification System.
“Known dangerous goods transports are well-planned, checked and executed by experts. The real risk we are exposed to is the risk we cannot see: dangerous goods or other sensitive commodities that are not properly declared to shipping lines,” he said.
Capt. John Leach, risk manager at Britannia P+I, said that in the specific case of calcium hypochlorite — a dangerous material responsible for a number of significant incidents — all fires in the last 15 years have been as a result of misdeclaration.
“We need more enforcement of the rules,” said Alex Kemp, senior associate at Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW). Based on his experience, Kemp argued that fraud is widespread and that shippers need to be brought to account to prevent misdeclared cargo from finding its way into the supply chain. “Casualties from dangerous goods far outweigh casualties caused by overweight containers in terms of volume, severity and financial cost.”
Keith Bradley, technical adviser on IMDG issues and former hazardous cargoes adviser at the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, agree. He said the industry needs a holistic approach to look at all cargoes and suggested that parties could ask to check the training records of other parties in the supply chain before accepting goods.
More pressure on the regulators themselves is needed, said Craig Neame, partner at HFW. Discussing lessons from the Tianjin port disaster, Neame said that “we have to look at enforcement as much as the legislation itself.” He also called on shippers, carriers and ports to share more information, adding: “We need more events like this to mobilize all participants in the maritime supply chain.”
Conor Feighan, policy advisor for the Federation of European Private Port Operators (FEPORT), said that dangerous goods guidance itself could also be improved, noting that in some cases useful information is not communicated to port operators and guidelines are sometimes too general and unworkable. Landside planning is an example, he said.
Ports: Learning from Tianjin
The Tianjin tragedy was a “wake-up call” for the whole industry, said Wouter de Gier, global head of safety, environment and performance management at APM Terminals.
He said it prompted APM Terminals to conduct a baseline review of DG risks across the globe, including a joint supply chain assessment with sister companies Maersk Line and Damco. The exercise revealed “big differences” between facilities and also showed that 45 percent of responding terminals were within two kilometers of a dangerous goods storage facility — the nexus of the Tianjin disaster. Subsequent work led APM Terminals to the release of a global dangerous goods operating standard in 2016.
De Gier acknowledged that there was still much more to be done to improve everyday practice, including stopping the current financial incentive for terminals and shipping lines to keep boxes in depots for years at a time. Long-standing dangerous goods containers are “our blind spot,” he said.
Culture change critical
Cultural change within the freight forwarding community is desperately needed, said Capt. Terry Frith, technical manager of the nonprofit Chemical Distribution Institute (CDI). He pointed out that stakeholders in the chemical tank community understand the risks involved; an appreciation, he says, that is fundamentally missing within the dry cargo industry.
To get the CTU Code to achieve its purpose, legislators desperately need feedback from industry, said Francesco Dionori, chief of Transport Networks & Logistics Section Sustainable Transport Division at UNECE. He told delegates that there is a lack of data concerning how the CTU Code is being used. In fact, he said, it was the first time he had seen a number for how many incidents were caused by badly packed cargo, referring to TT Club’s figure of 14.2 percent.
One idea proposed at the seminar to improve safe packing was to make the training element of the CTU Code mandatory.
“This is our call to arms,” said Capt. Richard Brough, technical advisor to ICHCA International “We need to harness the Tianjin moment to bring far greater awareness of the very real risks involved in the transport of packaged dangerous goods. We are hindered by complexity throughout the supply chain and from the regulations. The industry has today called for a ‘dummy’s guide’ to the IMDG Code to cut complexity and communicate it in simple terms to the people who need to know it. I believe that ICHCA is best placed within the industry to respond to this challenge so we will be looking at how to produce this much needed guidance in the coming months.”
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