By Peregrine Storrs-Fox
It cannot be overstated how critical it is to maintain good practice when shipping dangerous goods. Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the fateful Atlantic crossing of the MSC Flaminia that cost the lives of three seafarers and resulted in extensive damage to cargo and the ship.
The forensic investigations and litigation that followed the MSC Flaminia incident adequately demonstrate the complexity of shipping dangerous goods through the maritime supply chain in terms of regulation, practices and expectations. The 2018 judgment in the liability phase of the litigation provides excellent analysis of logistics workflow and is recommended reading for that alone.
The court determined that the shipper had failed to take account of the nature of the cargo and the specific circumstances of this shipment. Equally, it found that the non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) had failed to act on the extensive information available from the shipper and specifically did not disclose key information about the cargo to the carrier. Following this reasoning, both the shipper and NVOCC were found strictly liable under the U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA). The matter remains subject to appeal, unresolved 10 years on, displaying one of the long-tail consequences of such incidents.
Regulation responds to incidents
Aside from the litigation, there were lessons learned from this tragic incident that were subsequently incorporated into the relevant regulations, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code). In two iterations of the IMDG, new United Nations numbers were created for this type of product, within subdivision Class 4.1 for polymerizing substances, followed by additional requirements for cargoes classified in this way to be transported under temperature control. However, the process of amending the IMDG Code (and related United Nations recommendations on the transport of dangerous goods, commonly known as the U.N. model regulations or “Orange Book”) is a lengthy one, and these changes took several years to become mandatory. Worryingly, TT Club was alerted at the end of 2021 that the subject commodity was still being declared incorrectly under the previous Class 9 U.N. number.
Errors, misunderstandings, misdeclarations, and inadequate packing and securing lie at the heart of many significant incidents, both at sea and in storage facilities. As ultralarge container ships have continued to increase in size — the largest currently more than three times the capacity of MSC Flaminia — the potential for economic, human and environmental impacts rises in proportion.
IMDG Code 101
The IMDG Code was initially developed as an international code for the maritime transport of dangerous goods in packaged form approaching six decades ago. The aspiration was to improve practices, enabling the safe carriage of dangerous goods and mitigating the risks of disasters, injuries, loss of assets and environmental damage. Furthermore, training for all those involved in entering dangerous goods cargo into the maritime supply chain has been mandatorily applicable since Jan. 1, 2004, under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention.
Since its initial introduction, the IMDG Code has been updated on a biennial cycle to maintain pace with the ever-changing needs of the industry as well as respond to the lessons learned from incidents. Amendments to the IMDG Code typically originate from two sources: proposals submitted directly to the International Maritime Organization by member governments or industry bodies with consultative status, as well as amendments to take account of changes to the U.N. model regulations, which set the basic requirements for all transport modes.
Needless to say, ensuring compliance with the latest mandatorily applicable version of the IMDG Code is essential as a minimum standard for all those shipping dangerous goods by sea. Indeed, the MSC Flaminia judgment even made clear that the regulations merely set the baseline, an important statement for any entity or individual inclined to rely solely on the “letter” in relation to consigning dangerous goods.
‘Book it right and pack it tight’
Recognizing the importance of getting it right, TT Club has again teamed up with the U.K. P&I Club in order to support all participants in the maritime supply chain in publishing a detailed guidance document on the IMDG requirements: “Book it right and pack it tight.” This version of the guidance reflects the updates in Amendment 40-20 of IMDG, which has been available to be applied voluntarily since Jan. 1, 2020, but became mandatory on June 1 of this year.
“Book it right and pack it tight” provides key insights for all participants in the freight supply chain responsible for preparing unitized consignments of dangerous goods for carriage by sea. The guide is intended to support shippers, forwarders, shipping line booking personnel and those who pack dangerous goods into cargo transport units (CTUs) in the technical aspects of the IMDG Code. The aspiration is to influence behaviors and levels of compliance by assisting all involved to understand their own duties and the duties of their contractual partners through the global supply chain.
The guidance is split into two parts. Part A of the guide breaks down the process of preparing and booking the cargo into practical steps and explores the roles and requirements of those involved in each step:
- Step 1: Classification of dangerous goods.
- Step 2: Selection of packaging.
- Step 3: Marking and labeling the packages.
- Step 4: Preparing the transport document for booking with the shipping line.
- Step 5: Applying the segregation rules.
- Step 6: Packing the cargo transport unit.
- Step 7: Producing the cargo transport unit-packing certificate.
Part B provides background information to the IMDG Code, classification and references to further materials.
Cargo integrity matters
Closely related to the issues specific to dangerous goods are the broader issues of packing cargo in general. While the IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code) remains nonmandatory international law, it is clearly referenced from the IMDG Code.
Equally, “Book it right and pack it tight” refers to the CTU Code as the definitive industry code of practice on how to pack and secure cargo of all types in cargo transport units, imploring all operators to adopt the principles therein, thus improving operational practices.
Peregrine Storrs-Fox is the risk management director for the TT Club, a provider of mutual insurance and related risk management services to the international transport and logistics industry.