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April 30 2018

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54 The Journal of Commerce | April 30 2018 Trading Places Peter Tirschwell NO ONE SHOULD be surprised when a container ship catches fire, no matter how new or big the vessel might be. It is no exaggeration to say that literally every container ship is a catastrophe waiting to happen, given how little carriers know about cargo loaded onto their ships, the frequency with which shippers misdeclare haz- ardous cargo with impunity, the lack of a safety culture industrywide, the inadequacy of effective firefighting ca- pability on even the newest ships, and the inaction by governments tasked with enforcing safety rules. Serious container ship fires are now happening once every 60 days on average, according to the TT Club, a freight insurance and risk-manage- ment specialist. The latest big one as of April 17 was the 15,000-TEU Maersk Honam, which was still smoldering more than a month after it caught fire on March 6 in the Arabian Sea. The fire killed five crewmembers, and left the ship's cargo either destroyed, damaged, or indefinitely stranded. And yet, unlike how the problem of overweight containers was ad- dressed with the tough 2016 Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) verified gross mass (VGM) rule — which holds the shipper accountable for accurately declaring container weights — there's little momentum to address the menace of container ship fires. That's despite the fires killing crewmembers and causing tens of millions of dollars of cargo losses and supply chain disruption annually. Consider the level of inspection and enforcement activity targeting dangerous goods shipments by coast guard agencies around the world. Roughly 5.4 million containers are shipped annually containing dan- gerous goods, of which more than 20 percent are possibly deficient in regard to compliance with hazardous materials-handling rules, according to comments submitted to the In- ternational Maritime Organization last year by the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association. In regard to one area of noncom- pliance — placarding and marking of hazardous goods containers — the percent of noncompliant contain- ers has sharply increased in recent years. Wrongly placarded units can create a major hazard, as exemplified in the Port of Vancouver in 2015 when a container packed with dan- gerous goods caught fire, as well as numerous incidents on board ship, according to the ICHCA submission. Yet governments do little. The number of inspections performed on loaded containers holding danger- ous goods is about 4 per 100,000 packed containers moved, according to the ICHCA. Unlike anti-terrorism container security programs, there is no additional layer of data screening behind the relatively few number of actual inspections. Despite IMO member states be- ing urged by the organization in 2012 to implement inspection programs and report their findings to the IMO, as of last year only 4 out of the 175 IMO member states had submitted a report to the IMO on the results of cargo inspections, according to the ICHCA. The findings "drew attention to the lamentable level of competent authority enforcement/inspections alongside the worrying level of deficiencies found," according to the submission to the IMO. A recent ICHCA seminar report- ed "one shipping line [revealed] that many shippers use alternative terms for dangerous goods to avoid surcharges and having to comply with additional measures, includ- ing any ship or port restrictions, as well as the regulations themselves," according to the IMO submission. "It is a serious situation when a unit packed with dangerous goods, re- quiring specific and careful placement or stowage aboard a ship, is treated as if there were no danger from its contents at all; such a container may inadvertently be positioned in a way that exposes it to increased risk, there- by endangering other cargo, the crew, and the ship," Peregrine Storrs-Fox, risk management director at TT Club, wrote recently. Something needs to change. As ships get bigger — the largest ship in service is 21,413 TEU versus 9,578 TEU in 2000 — more cargo is at risk from any given fire. Focus is needed on two fronts, in terms of the carrier achieving greater certainty as to the cargo loaded on its ships, and in how ships are designed to minimize fire risk. Options worth considering include a "known shipper" regime similar to what exists in air cargo, as well as the concept of an individual's signature associated with the cargo declaration, such as with VGM. "One angle of debate has to be whether the maritime world can follow the air mode in requiring 'known ship- pers.' Similarly, requiring a signed packing certificate for all shipments [rather than just dangerous goods] could focus minds," Storrs-Fox told The Journal of Commerce. The other area of focus needs to be on the ships themselves. Insurers complain that firefighting infrastruc- ture tends to be more advanced in the engine room than in cargo holds, and that cost saving has become a mantra in container ship construction, resulting in needed fire mitigation features not being included aboard many new vessels. Finally, the pro- cess of stowage plans being created and approved, ultimately by the master, has to be improved, said Capt. Rabinder Singh, a Singapore-based independent marine surveyor. It's not known how many more mega-container ships need to go up in flames, how many times general average has to be declared, or how many crewmembers will perish before the industry confronts this hazard head on. Sooner, rather than later, would be best. JOC email: twitter: @petertirschwell A burning issue The number of inspections performed on loaded containers holding dangerous goods is about 4 per 100,000 packed containers moved.

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