NCB reports ‘alarming’ level of misdeclared dangerous cargo

A recent inspection initiative by the US National Cargo Bureau (NCB) – a US inspection body authorised to certify compliance with dangerous goods regulations – has highlighted an “alarming” level of misdeclared and non-compliant dangerous cargo in container shipments, with more than half of containers non-compliant and more than 6% of containers carrying dangerous cargo misdeclared.

In a white paper published yesterday, the NCB called for industry “to adopt a comprehensive, holistic and coordinated approach to address this worrying trend” and called for “urgent reform to stem the increasing number of container-related incidents caused by poorly stowed, undeclared or misdeclared dangerous cargoes”.

It reported that a recent inspection initiative “revealed an alarming number of containers carried by sea include misdeclared dangerous cargoes that represent a serious safety risk to crew, vessel and the environment”.

The inspection initiative also showed that 55% of containers were non-compliant with 43% failing to secure dangerous goods correctly within the container itself. Approximately 6.5% of containers carrying dangerous cargoes had been misdeclared, the NCB added.

“It has been reported that, on average, a containership suffers a major fire every 60 days,” the organisation noted. “However, in 2019 there were nine major containership fires reported suggesting that the frequency of incidents is increasing.

“Tragically, these incidents often result in loss of life, severe damage to hull and cargo as well as a series of associated consequences including significant environmental impact. It is strongly suspected that these vessel incidents were caused by issues related to poorly stowed, undeclared or misdeclared dangerous cargoes.”

Containership fires

Other bodies have also expressed concerns about rising frequencies of containership fires, often blamed on issues related to poorly stowed, undeclared or misdeclared dangerous cargo. Following a series of fires last year, freight insurance specialist TT Club also estimated that there was now a casualty at least once every 30 days, up from once every 60 days in past years.

With more containers being carried and containerships getting bigger, the NCB said “risks are increasing in number, value and concentration”.

NCB president Ian Lennard commented: “The link between undeclared, misdeclared or poorly stowed dangerous cargoes and the increased incidence of catastrophic containership fires is hard to ignore. Because of the clear and present risk predominately to safety of life but also to ships, their cargoes and the environment, we are calling for all supply chain participants to work on a solution together.”

He comtinued: “The reasons for issues with dangerous cargoes are diverse and include a challenging regulatory environment; cargo prohibitions; more complex supply chains; and varied levels of understanding and processes. Because of this, it is important that the stakeholders work together and adopt a range of measures that will address all potential causes.”

The NCB white paper details 12 recommendations as part of their holistic approach ranging from embracing a safety culture for dangerous goods compliance to practical measures for container and vessel inspections and monitoring.

Taken together, NCB said it was “confident that its recommendations will be effective in reversing the current trend of increasing containership fires”.

The white paper, titled ‘A comprehensive holistic approach to enhance safety and address the carriage of undeclared, misdeclared and other non-compliant dangerous goods’, can be downloaded from www.natcargo.org/Holistic_Approach

Fines by carriers

Some carriers last year unveiled plans to fine shippers for failing to correctly declare hazardous cargo. But such moves by carriers are unlikely by themselves to change the behaviour of the criminally minded, with other measures needed in response to rising numbers of containership fires, container shipping analyst Drewry said last year. Drewry said the time had come “to name and shame rogue shippers that threaten the safety of the supply chain”, adding: “If governments won’t or can’t do more to assist with container checks, they can at least give shipping lines more tools to do it themselves, such as allowing some sharing of information on habitual criminals.”

Drewry noted that over a quarter of all liner fires reported to the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) relate to misdeclared cargoes, particularly of the hazardous kind. “It is an age-old problem that has blighted shipping for too long: rogue shippers wilfully breaking the rules to avoid freight rate and insurance premiums on dangerous goods, or committing customs fraud by declaring high value goods as more common items,” Drewry added.

The National Cargo Bureau is a non-profit organisation created to assist the United States Coast Guard in discharging its responsibilities under the 1948 International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, which addressed the carriage of Dangerous Goods and Grain cargoes for the first time. Under the authority of the United States Coast Guard, the certificates issued by National Cargo Bureau may be accepted as prima facie evidence of compliance with the provisions of the Dangerous Cargo Act and the Rules and Regulations for Bulk Grain Cargo. It conducts tens of thousands of marine surveys and inspections related to the transport of dangerous goods on behalf of vessel operators, marine terminals, insurers and shippers in support of its mission each year.

Source: Lloyds Loading List