Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Loss of Supramax Tanker Leads to Ship Owners Group Demanding Regulation Changes

IMO Told Chemical Cargo is Hardly Non Hazardous
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo) is calling upon the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reclassify Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertiliser (non-hazardous) following an incident last year which saw the 2012 built supramax bulk carrier M/V Cheshire declared a constructive total loss after her cargo of the fertiliser in question suffered decomposition.

In August 2017, the M/V Cheshire en route from Norway to Thailand was fully loaded with a cargo declared by the shipper as being ‘Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (Non-hazardous)’ and not liable to self-sustaining decomposition. While underway south of Gran Canaria, the vessel suffered cargo decomposition that led to rising temperatures in the cargo holds and the production of toxic gases.

The decomposition progressed throughout the length of the vessel to such an extent that, after several days, the vessel’s Master took the decision to evacuate the crew. The vessel was then left to drift under the supervision of the Spanish Authorities until being salvaged, but in the end, due to extensive damage, the vessel was declared a constructive total loss.

As any schoolboy chemist knows nitrates often form the base for a variety of explosives. Ammonium Nitrate is no exception and constitutes the major constituent in the popular industrial explosive ANFO, a compound of the chemical with 6% fuel oil, and has also been linked to a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) worldwide.

As the flag administration for the stricken vessel, the Isle of Man Ship Registry recently published a casualty report which made some important recommendations including:

  • amending the misleading cargo name from ‘Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertiliser (non-hazardous)’ to ‘Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertiliser (not otherwise classified)’
  • calling on the fertiliser manufacturers to provide further information on the behaviour and carriage of this cargo, and
  • consider whether the current IMO-stipulated test for assessment of self-sustaining decomposition properties of an ammonium nitrate based fertiliser is adequate.
Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (non-hazardous) is currently designated in the IMSBC Code as a group C cargo. These are cargoes that that do not liquefy (group A) nor possess chemical hazards (group B). It is clear from this incident that this cargo, or at least some of the ammonium nitrate based fertilisers shipped as this cargo, should not be treated as group C.

It is Intercargo’s hope that future work at the IMO will lead to the correct designation and description of this cargo within the IMSBC Code, thus furthering the safer carriage of cargoes and safer voyages.

Other recommendations in the report include: the provision of specialist equipment on board the vessel, monitoring of the cargo atmosphere by the crew, and the development of cargo and ship specific procedures related to the carriage of this cargo. Intercargo says that it hopes these additional precautions, which are being called upon to be the responsibility of the vessel, ought to be unnecessary if the cargo is group C.

The IMSBC Code, which is mandatory under SOLAS, stipulates that the Shipper should provide the vessel with all the appropriate information that enables a cargo to be carried safely. It is Intercargo’s belief that accurate cargo information, provided by the shipper, is the cornerstone for the safe carriage of bulk cargoes.

Photo: The stricken M/V Cheshire following the incident.