Insurer urges measures to prevent ship fires

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by Emily Atkins

Freight transport and logistics insurance specialist insurer, TT Club is campaigning to convince the shipping industry and shippers that responsibility for mitigating container ship fires is shared by numerous entities involved from end to end of the entire global supply chain.

TT Club estimates there is a serious ship fire every 60 days. This is held up by the Zim Charleston fire in August and the TSS Pearl in the Red Sea in early October. TT is urging a more comprehensive approach to arresting the trend.

“There were significant lessons coming from the sad incident on the MSC Flaminia, which cost the lives of three seafarers, particularly from the subsequent legal proceedings that adjudged the shipper and NVOC responsible for root cause errors,” said TT’s Peregrine Storrs-Fox.

“Despite the biennial updates to the IMDG Code, including multiple arising from this particular incident, the judge’s assessment that the regulations merely set the ‘baseline’ for good practice remains utterly true today.”

Ensuring compliance with the latest applicable version of the IMDG Code is essential as a minimum standard for all those shipping dangerous goods by sea. But the liability judgment in the MSC Flaminia case made it clear that regulations merely set the baseline.

“This is an important statement to which any entity inclined to rely solely on the letter of the law when consigning dangerous goods, would do very well to pay heed,” Storrs-Fox added.

TT says it’s necessary for everyone involved in the movement of cargo in containers to understand all the factors contributing to these fires. Errors, misunderstandings, mis-declarations and inadequate packing and securing lie at the heart of many significant incidents, both at sea and in storage facilities.

Movement of cargo is initiated in the trading of goods – sellers and buyers – who instruct packers and whoever becomes the shipper. They have a duty of care as much as the packers, warehouse operators, forwarders, logistics companies, carriers of all modal types, cargo handlers and terminal operators.

Attention to accurate classification and declaration are critical to improve certainty of outcome from end to end. This requires truth as much as awareness of regulations and sound safety practices.

Along with its sister insurer, the UK P&I Club, TT Club recently updated its guideline publication, ‘Book it Right, Pack it Tight’.  This provides key insights for all involved in dangerous goods’ shipments, including a clear explanation of the more technical aspects of the IMDG Code. The aim is to influence higher standards of compliance by assisting all involved to understand their own duties and the duties of their contractual partners.

Closely related to the issues specific to dangerous goods are the broader aspects of packing cargo in general. While the IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code) remains non-mandatory international law, it is clearly referenced from the IMDG Code.

Through its participation in the Cargo Integrity Group, TT has contributed to work on the ‘CTU Code – a quick guide’. This has also been recently updated and assists those responsible for packing containers, accurately declaring details of their contents in order to access the guidance contained in the voluminous CTU Code itself more easily.  There is also a useful checklist of actions required, which along with the quick guide is available in multiple languages.

TT’s campaign to influence all parties continues with a series of Webinars early in 2023 on the subject of container ship fires and the on-going efforts to prevent them. The intent is to create awareness and debate particularly around innovations that could materially improve the risk, including a number of those whose efforts have been recognized through the TT Club Innovation in Safety Awards over recent years.

“The complexities of the global container trades increase rather than diminish,” said Storrs-Fox. “No one entity can surmount the dangers of these horrific fires, as a consequence it is essential that the entirety of the risk faced should be embraced by all involved through the supply chain if they are to be successfully reduced.”