11 Million Tons of Indian Iron Ore Could Be Deadly

iron ore bulk carrier loading terminal shipping dry cargo
Loading iron ore on to a bulk carrier, image (c) Shutterstock/tcly

The London P&I Club says the lifting of an iron ore ban in India, together with the recent total loss of two ships, has put the spotlight once again on the very real danger of cargo liquefaction.

Although the issue of cargo liquefaction is one that is faced by iron and nickel ore shippers worldwide, particularly from places such as Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Philippines, there is one particular pile of iron ore sitting in India which is raising eyebrows.

In their latest issue of its StopLoss Bulletin, the club draws attention to 11.5 million tons of excavated iron ore which has sat unused in Goa after after a 2010 ban was imposed halting the mining, storage and export of the ore.   That ban was lifted last month, however the club notes that picking all that ore up and loading it into ships could be extremely dangerous.

“There are specific challenges involved in the export of iron ore fines from Indian ports during the monsoon season which can increase the moisture content of the cargo to levels where liquefaction can occur. This can result in severe loss of a ship’s stability and, sometimes, in the vessel sinking. Other cargoes such as nickel ore are also prone to liquefaction.”

“There have also been total losses in recent months of a ship carrying Indian iron ore fines and a second carrying nickel ore. Investigations into both cases are at an early stage to establish precisely the cause of the sinkings.”

The club notes that “there are currently no links between these incidents and the cargoes on board,” however considering the loss of ships such as the Vinalines Queen, Hong Wei, Jian Fu Star, Nasco Diamond and the Trans Summer over the past few years, the chance that cargo liquefaction was a factor is likely quite high.

The London P&I club strongly recommends that any shipowner “considering carrying iron ore fines or nickel to contact the club early on, before concluding a fixture, to ensure that the risks and associated precautions are fully explored.”