The International Maritime Organization is taking action to warn ship Masters about the possible dangers of bauxite liquefaction following findings from an investigation into the fatal sinking of Bulk Jupiter in January 2015.
The new warning was released in a circular approved by IMO’s Sub-Committee on Carriage of Containers and Cargoes (CCC) during a meeting last week at IMO Headquarters. The circular warns ship Masters not to accept bauxite cargoes unless the moisture limit for the specific cargo is certified as less than the indicative moisture limit of 10% and the particle size distribution as is detailed in the individual schedule for bauxite in the IMSBC Code; the cargo is declared as Group A (cargoes that may liquefy) and the shipper declares the transportable moisture limit (TML) and moisture content; or the cargo has been assessed as not presenting Group A properties.
The circular notes that while bauxite – a clay-like substance that is the primary ore used in the production of aluminum – is currently classified as a low-risk Group C cargo under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code, there is a need to raise awareness of the possible dangers of liquefaction associated with bauxite because, under certain circumstances, it has been known to exhibit liquefaction characteristics similar to high-risk ‘Group A’ cargoes.
The mandatory IMSBC Code requires Group A cargoes to be tested, before loading, to determine their TML and their actual moisture content. The testing should confirm the cargo is below the maximum moisture content considered safe for carriage.
The Gearbulk-owned, Bahamas-flagged MV Bulk Jupiter unexpectedly sank January 2nd off the coast of Vietnam after departing from Kuantan, Malaysia with 46,400 metric tons of bauxite. All but one of the 19 crewmembers onboard were lost in the accident.
The IMO said that the marine safety investigation into the loss of the Bulk Jupiter revealed evidence to suggest that the liquefaction of cargo led to loss of stability, ultimately causing the ship to capesize and sink. The investigation findings confirm initial suspicions about the cause of the sinking; suspicions that prompted insurers to issue warnings over the liquefaction risk of bauxite cargoes.
Liquefaction is a phenomenon in which a dry cargo becomes liquified, which can cause a ship to lose stability quickly and unexpectedly due to the internal shifting of the cargo.
The IMO says there is ongoing research being carried out by Australia and Brazil to evaluate the properties of bauxite, while a research project in China has suggested that bauxite has various liquefaction behaviors. The Sub-Committee also established a correspondence group to evaluate the properties of bauxite and coal (some types of coal may liquefy) and consider any necessary amendments to the IMSBC Code.