Yara to continue shipping NPK fertiliser by sea following Cheshire casualty

Cheshire. Credit: Sasemar/Gonzalo Mendez Blasco

Norwegian agricultural inputs producer Yara International has said that it has no plans to stop transporting its products by sea following the spectacular decomposition of one of its cargoes aboard a ship during the summer.

The group is the owner of the NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) fertiliser cargo which provoked an emergency aboard the Bibby Line bulker Cheshire when it began heating and billowing smoke while the vessel was in the Atlantic off the Canary Islands in August.

The 56,597 dwt, 2012-built Cheshire’s 24-strong crew had to be evacuated by helicopter after the situation on board became too threatening.

Yara has told Fairplay, however, that it has no plans to change the way it transports its products by sea following the incident, which follows others involving NPK cargoes in recent years.

A group spokeswoman told Fairplay, “Decomposition of product during transportation is very rare. Although we are continuously looking to improve the way we transport our products, we have no plans to stop using sea transport to ship our products to agricultural markets across the world.”

No explanation has yet been given for the decomposition of the NPK aboard the Cheshire; which was on its way from Norway to Thailand when the alert was given, although contact with an on-board heat source is thought to be the most likely cause.

The incident lasted for several days as the decomposition spread to different holds aboard the vessel and salvors were forced to wait to get a tow line to it. A tow line was finally got to the abandoned vessel on August 20 and it was taken to a position off Gran Canarias before being towed on to the Spanish port of Motril, which was deemed best-equipped to deal with it.

The unloading of the decomposed NPK began in Motril on October 20 after the vessel had been in port for more than a month.

Yara International acknowledged that some concern had been expressed about the operation by local environmentalists but insisted that, even in its decomposed form, the NPK was “intrinsically safe”.

It said that the NPK from the Cheshire was being taken to local warehouses and that it had received expressions of interest from prospective customers looking to buy the decomposed product at a reduced price.

Bibby Line has not far indicated what the state the Cheshire is in following the incident nor whether the incident has caused it to change its approach to the transportation of NPK.

A company spokesperson told Fairplay that it was not taking any particular action with regard to NPK cargoes for the time being, adding that it did not expect to know for several weeks or months what had caused the incident aboard the Cheshire.

“This is not on the company’s agenda right now,” she said. “Bibby needs to see through all the discharge and, following that, do a proper assessment of the ship.”

The unloading of the NPK from the Cheshire is expected to take 15 days in total. The company said that the port’s stevedores were working only in daylight hours on the vessel and that unloading was being further slowed by cargo-sampling procedures.

Contact Andrew Spurrier

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