Warnings about the hazards of liquefaction of iron ore cargos loaded in India have been repeated by P&I clubs after incidents involving several vessels including Hodasco 15, Vinalines Mighty , the Tonghai, earlier involved in the rescue of seafarers from the Genius Star, and the Black Rose in which a chief engineer perished trying to save his ship. Similar warnings were issued by the North of England P&I Club following the loss of the Asian Forest.
Iron ore is often stored in the open, collecting moisture during the rainy season. This cargo can become a ‘muddy slush’, a process called liquefaction, in a matter of minutes in the holds of bulk carriers. Bulkers are not designed to carry liquids and the loss of the vessel too often results.
Documentation indicating moisture content may be more a matter of wishful thinking than accurate analysis. Threats of violence have made in Mindanao, Philippines, when the ship’s personnel wanted to question and probe the veracity of information provided and test the cargo to be loaded.
The problem is excarebated during and following the rainy season.
An annopuncement from NEPIA says: “We would reiterate that members should exercise extreme caution when fixing to load iron ore fines from India during the monsoon season. Experience has shown that the current testing and certification regime for these cargoes may be inadequate and reliance on shipper’s certificates alone should be avoided.
“We would strongly advise members to engage the services of a suitably qualified and experienced surveyor to assist the Master in determining the suitability of the cargo to be loaded.”
Warns Skuld: “The problem of liquefying cargoes is well known in the bulk trade, with very serious casualties occurring over the years, culminating in the MV ASIAN FOREST on 17 July 2009, and at other times big delays being suffered such as was experienced recently by the MV TONGHAI in India… The main problem areas have been India, Indonesia, The Philippines, New Caledonia, and in part China… Cargoes to have suffered this problem frequently include iron ore, nickel and fluorspar – but indeed any fine particle mineral cargo may be at risk from this issue.”
The most recent high profile problem area is New Mangalore in India, affected by the Monsoon.
The recent high demand for Iron Ore by China and the issues between China and an Australian Mining Company brought shipments from India once more to the spotlight.
The issue can, however, arise anywhere where fine particle mineral cargoes are mined or stored exposed to the elements.
Says Skuld: “In many of the problem places, there are no good facilities to hand to undertake the tests required by the BC Code, with actual equipment being basic or inappropriate and requisite know-how very limited or the BC Code even deliberately ignored.
“The cargo may also be mixed in with other cargoes prior to loading, meaning it is not homogenous and while one hold’s load may be perfectly safe the next hold could be a disaster waiting to happen.
“Sampling and testing may at times only be done while loading is under way, the wrong cargo or parcels may be subjected to test on the shore side and indeed it is now the case that in some places the shippers deliberately delay the provision of documentation until the last day of shipment. These quite unscrupulous people work on the basis that demand is so high for their product that they can get way with such sharp practice.”
Prevention is better than the cure.
- Vessels should not load if the right documentation is not provided in advance
- Loading should not be undertaken if the documentation does not look sound
- Loading should be stopped if there is a possible problem
- Competent surveyors with requisite local knowledge should be used every time
If at any time the Master is concerned that the cargo is not safe he should call a halt to loading immediately. If on voyage the cargo liquefies and shifts the Master should immediately notify Owners, Club and seek assistance. The vessel can be minutes away from catastrophe. One Master only avoided the loss of his ship by deliberately running her aground.