Ignoring CTU code puts crews at risk, says shipping alliance

Container vessel APL Austria in Hamburg, 2008. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

A lack of attention by International Maritime Organization (IMO) member states to the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units, known as the CTU Code, could have big implications for seafarer safety, according to a four-association alliance of the Global Shippers Forum (GSF), the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), TT Club, and the World Shipping Council (WSC).

While the CTU Code is aimed at shippers and other players in the supply chain that are responsible for the packing and securing of containers, the detrimental effects and safety risks that come with improper packing fall squarely on the shoulders of seafarers.

“If you’re part of a ship’s crew, you don’t want to be standing on the bridge, hear the rumble of cargo, and the next thing you know a section of steel coil is shooting through the side of a container and bouncing down at you because it wasn’t properly stowed inside,” Captain Richard Brough, who represents the ICHCA, told Safety at Sea.

It is a more frequent occurrence than people realise, said Brough, who has worked in all areas of shipping, including as a ship’s captain. “Worse, there have been a lot of fires on board ships recently because dangerous goods have been misdeclared.”

Brough recounted an instance where charcoal used for grilling was not declared as such. It burst into flames when the temperature rose inside the container. Whole ships can be wiped out as a result of such misdeclarations, he said.

Two major container ship fires earlier this year are thought to have been caused, at least in part, by misdeclared cargo. The cause of a container fire in February on board the 6,350 teu APL Austria, while the vessel was off the coast of South Africa, was possibly a misdeclared shipment of calcium hypochlorite. Another fire occurred on board the 13,800 teu box ship MSC Daniela in April, although the specific cause has not yet been confirmed.

The four-association alliance launched their campaign to address the dangers of incorrectly packed and secured cargo at European Shipping Week in Brussels in February. Flouting of the CTU Code was raised at the ‘Safety in the intermodal supply chain’ event at London International Shipping Week, hosted by the GSF, the ICHCA, TT Club, and the WSC.

A document filed with the IMO by ICHCA in July for discussion at the fourth meeting of the organisation’s Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 4) illustrates the gravity of the problem: only four member states out of the 172 represented at the IMO have submitted reports on the results of their country’s cargo inspection programmes, according to the filing. In addition, “the deficiencies regularly found in this small sample are quite alarming”, according to ICHCA.

The association found that deficiencies related to placarding and marking, “a key visual risk alert” for workers in the supply chain, ICHCA said, increased to 67.5% in 2015, while stowage and securing deficiencies averaged more than 20%.

ICHCA put an additional perspective on the severity of the stowage and securing problem by taking into account the volume of dangerous goods moving through the supply chain and the lack of inspections associated with them. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates these at roughly 5.4 million cargo transport units annually.

But while the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is mandatory, the CTU Code is not, Brough pointed out.

“So we’re pushing the IMO as hard as we can without telling them what to do” in terms of looking to make the CTU Code mandatory, he said. “But that’s why we’re making the link between the mandatory and the non-mandatory codes. The dangerous goods regulation is mandatory and the compliance there is appalling. So for goods that fall under the non-mandatory code, compliance is likely [to be] much worse and cargo that is not secured properly can be just as dangerous.”

The problem is sufficiently prevalent for marine insurers to take notice as well. TT Club, which covers 80% of the world’s ocean containers, also has an insurable interest in more than 45% of the world’s top 100 ports.

Regarding the low number of reports and inspections, “we don’t think this is a sustainable sample,” Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club’s risk management director, told Safety at Sea. “This is a problem that should encourage IMO member countries and the industry to be much more proactive.”

Storrs-Fox and Brough both consider the IMO’s support for the campaign a major step in what could be a long process. “It’s the dripping tap syndrome,” Brough said. “A little drip every day and eventually the glass is full.”

Ramping up inspections

ICHCA’s 21 July proposal to the IMO asserts that, based on a random sampling of results, the inspection programmes at member states should be reconsidered. It made the following recommendations:

  • Amend the title of MSC Circular 1442, Inspection Programmes for Cargo Transport Units Carrying Dangerous Goods, in as much as the title appears to restrict the application of the programme to cargo declared to be dangerous.

  • Ask governments to identify what issues prevent them from inspecting CTUs and reporting the findings to IMO in a consistent and statistically viable fashion.

  • Encourage entities other than those that are ‘competent authorities’ to carry out inspections compliant with MSC Circular 1442 and facilitate the reporting of those inspections to the IMO.

  • Consider advances in scanning technologies that may permit improved and risk-based inspections to be carried out more effectively.

Explosive risk

Andrew Kinsey, marine risk consultant at ‎Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), told Safety at Sea that new firefighting systems could be needed to fight fires on large container ships. “But first, there needs to be accurate cargo manifests. If inaccurately documented cargo catches fire, crews do not know the best way to extinguish them,” he said.

According to data from the recent ICHCA Dangerous Goods seminar, more than one-third (39%) of boxes containing dangerous goods are marked incorrectly, while approximately 21% have some other defect.

To illustrate the deadly consequences when dangerous goods were not handled, shipped, and stored correctly, we only had to look at the Tianjin explosions, which occurred in China in August, 2015, Kinsey added. The official investigation found that an overheated container of nitrocellulose was the cause of the initial explosion that led to a much larger explosion.

“Vessel size and fire regulation is a big concern,” added Chris Turberville, head of marine hull and liabilities (UK) at AGCS. “Safety regulation is driven by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), but this is concerned with the safety of the crew and not the vessel. Safety of life is paramount, but we would also like to see safety systems developed to take more account of the preservation of the vessel itself.”

Contact John Gallagher

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