WITH the salvage operation of X-Press Pearl turning into a wreck removal and pollution containment exercise, attention has turned to the regulation of the dangerous goods cargoes that are often the cause of boxship fires.

The exact cause of the fire on the 2021-built, 2,700 teu X-PRESS PEARL (IMO: 9875343) remains unknown, and with the vessel now almost entirely burnt out will possibly never be known. But the crew had reported nitric acid leaking from a container. This is highly corrosive and can react explosively with other substances. Carriage of the substance is covered by the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. While the presence of the substance on board may have been known, the quality of the packaging has been called into question.

“While still to be fully investigated, the catalyst for the inferno on X-PRESS PEARL has been asserted to be a leakage of nitric acid, which was correctly declared but apparently incorrectly packaged or packed,” said TT Club risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox.TT Club has been campaigning to reduce incidents of cargo fires from misdeclared and undeclared DGs, which are often at the centre of boxship fires The insurer estimates there are in excess of 150,000 containers shipped each year that fall into those categories. But even where DGs are correctly declared, there can still be incidents if the goods inside a container have not been packed or packaged properly. The proper stuffing of containers is covered by the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (the CTU Code), which was developed by the International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organisation and the UN Economic Commission for Europe. The code, however, is not mandatory, and adherence to its guidelines relies on national regulations. In many less developed nations, these are either non-existent or weakly enforced. For that reason, TT Club is focusing on education rather than regulation to try and further its aims of safer shipping.

“Effective review of regulations is to be applauded,” Mr Storrs-Fox said. “Indeed, the latest meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee debated in detail the issue of containership fires. However, such consideration will not result in speedy change.”Instead, “holistic” industry-led initiatives were necessary, he said. “An understanding by all the actors in the supply chain of safe packaging, packing, loading and unloading of containers, and of the need for detailed, accurate information of the cargo’s attributes and any potentially hazardous reactions to any eventuality occurring through the entire transit, is necessary,” he said. “Above all truth, trust and transparency must guide all involved.” But he admitted it was a “significant challenge” to have the entire supply chain responsible for the despatch of goods follow the CTU Code. “However, dangerous goods are subject to mandatory regulation,” added Mr Storrs-Fox.

“In the case of [theX-Press Pearl] casualty, we see another element to the problem. The offending cargo was apparently correctly declared, with its relevant properties known, and presumably originating from an experienced shipper.“Yet for whatever reason the packaging was inappropriate or the packing and/or securing within the container was insufficient, resulting in a dangerous leakage. “While supply chains are complex and the hazards numerous, relevant knowledge and guidance are critical, within a control environment that must include effective inspection and enforcement regimes.”

Source : lloydlist