Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Misdeclared Dangerous Goods are a Threat to Freight and Container Ships, Cargo, Crews and Stevedores

German Shipping Line Report Highlights Increasing Risks
Shipping News Feature
GERMANY – CHINA – WORLDWIDE – Freight carrying giant Hapag-Lloyd has registered a 65% increase in the number of incorrectly declared dangerous goods last year, compared to 2014. Dangerous goods that are declared imprecisely, incorrectly or not at all have the potential to pose a major risk to crews, ships, other cargo and the environment. The release of this information from the German container shipping line coincides with the release of China's official report into the massive chemical explosion at a logistics warehouse in Tianjin in August last year, which killed 165 people and injured 798.

Hapag-Lloyd’s dangerous goods team looked into more than 236,000 suspicious cases picked up by the company’s safety software in 2015, compared to 2014 when the figure was around 162,000, equivalent to an increase of approximately 46%.

The Watchdog programme developed jointly by Hapag-Lloyd’s IT and dangerous goods experts identified 4,314 incorrectly declared dangerous goods cases last year. This is an increase of 65% on the previous year’s figure of 2,620 cases. For Ken Rohlmann, Head of the Dangerous Goods department at Hapag-Lloyd, there are two reasons behind the sharp increase:

“Firstly, the volume of cargo shipped by Hapag-Lloyd increased considerably last year due to the company’s merger with CSAV’s container business. Secondly, there was a sharp rise in Watchdog findings following the devastating dangerous goods explosion in the port of Tianjin in mid-August.”

Many ports drastically tightened their dangerous goods guidelines in the wake of the Tianjin incident some even prohibiting dangerous goods from being processed at all. The investigators in that case found more than 11,300 tonnes of hazardous goods were stored illegally at a warehouse belonging to Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics. The contents included 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, 680 tonnes of sodium cyanide, and the cause of the blast, 290 tons of nitro-cotton, a highly combustible product which had been store incorrectly.

The addition of a wetting agent to the nitro-cotton would have prevented the explosion according to the Chinese State Council led investigation. The nitro-cotton had self-ignited under a high temperature and the resulting flame ignited the surrounding chemical to create the explosions. It was estimated that the resulting losses were worth in the region of $1.04 billion (¥6.87 billion) China arrested 24 suspects from Tianjin Ruihai and 25 government officials in December for their alleged links to the blasts. A ‘very serious dereliction of duty’ was ultimately the cause of the explosion, according to the investigators.

In 2011, Hapag-Lloyd started to tackle the undeclared dangerous goods cargo and in doing so, created the Watchdog programme which scans the company’s entire booking environment to detect undeclared dangerous or other suspicious items. After the development of the Hapag-Lloyd watchdog, the first trial run detected nearly 6000 suspicious shipments globally. The dangerous goods experts intensively reviewed each finding in order to optimise the search routines and to adjust the keywords accordingly. The Watchdog now detects between 300 and 500 potential hits per day that require further investigations.

Photo: Like a graveyard of mechanical skeletons, the burnt out husks of thousands of cars in serried ranks bear witness to the force of the Chinese explosion.