Liquefaction of nickel and iron ores due to excess moisture continues to cost lives. One solution would be for Chinese importers to exercise their influence over their suppliers with a bit more vigour says the UK P&I Club, which has published a pocket-sized brochure to act as an aide-memoire when loading such cargoes.
Marine insurers are determined to keep the subject of dangerous bulk cargoes, and in particular nickel ores and iron ore fines, high on the Loss Prevention agenda. The UK Clubs latest initiative is an aide-mémoire for shipowners and shipmanagers in the form of a pocket leaflet that can be kept handy when a vessel is chartered to load such a cargo.
Iron ore fines and nickel ore are frequently presented for loading in a dangerous condition. The International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) sets out the internationally agreed provisions for the safe stowage and shipment of solid bulk cargoes, including cargoes that might liquefy such as iron ore fines and nickel ore, but several P&I clubs have reported that owners and their ship masters are being asked to load cargoes that have moisture levels that exceed the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML) and Flow Moisture Point (FMP) figures that are specified in the IMSBC Code.
The consequences of loading these unsafe cargoes can be catastrophic. The list of ships that have capsized or come close to capsizing since 2009 is now in double figures and rising, as is the death toll. And these ships are not rust buckets, in one case, a 55,000dwt vessel just 18 months old, capsized with the loss of 21 crew.
So why is it happening? The shipment of iron ore and nickel ore fines has grown dramatically, principally due to demand from China. According to Karl Lumbers, the UK P&I Clubs Loss Prevention Director, these shipments are loaded in areas where moisture migration has soaked what has previously been considered a perfectly safe bulk cargo. The high moisture content (MC) may be inherent in the mined ore due to a high water table, or caused by soaking tropical rains and a lack of drainage whilst stored. In any case, once the TML is exceeded it should not be loaded.
However, owners and masters are put under enormous pressure to load these cargoes. Some cargo surveyors are ill-equipped to carry out the necessary surveys while other reputable surveyors who are recommended by the P&I clubs, suffer intimidation to the point of violence or threats to their families.
UK Club Claims Director Graham Daines said, The UK Club supports those of its Members facing these problems by sending an appropriate expert to the ship as soon as possible. A significant number of shippers have shown a total disregard for the situation and exert pressure on cargo surveyors to enable them to load the cargo regardless of the potential danger.
The incidents involving ships owned by UK P&I Club members have largely centred around iron ore fines loaded in Indian ports and Lumbers applauds the initiatives being taken by the Directorate General of Shipping in Mumbai, which is determined to stamp out this practice of intimidation. However such action has yet to be seen in the nickel ore producing nations of Indonesia and the Philippines, the latter most surprising since so many Filipino nationals are seafarers whose lives are being put at risk by those who would load these cargoes.
Daines pointed out that almost all of the ships lost have been bound for China and many of them have had Chinese crew. The Club is assisting Chinese owners’ loss prevention efforts in regard to ore fines cargoes and working to increase general awareness of the problem. He believes that if Chinese importers exercised their influence over their suppliers with a bit more vigour, fewer dangerous cargoes would be loaded.