INTERCARGO Calls for Corrective Action on Designation of Certain Fertilizer Cargo Under IMSBC Code

cheshire fire
50,000 tonnes of fertilizer burns aboard the MV Cheshire off the coast of the Canary Islands in August 2017. Photo: Spanish Maritime Search and Rescue Society

INTERCARGO, the international trade association representing the interests of dry cargo vessel owners, is calling on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to correct the designation of certain ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer cargo under the IMSBC code in response to the publication of the casualty report into the total loss of the M/V Cheshire.

In August 2017, the 2012-built supramax bulk carrier was en route from Norway to Thailand, fully loaded with cargo declared by the shipper as being “Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (Non-hazardous)” and not liable to self-sustaining decomposition.

The vessel, however, suffered cargo decomposition that led to rising temperatures in the cargo holds and the generation of toxic gases. The decomposition spread throughout the length of the vessel to such an extent that, after several days, the vessel’s Master took the decision to evacuate the crew. After several days adrift under the supervision of the Spanish Authorities, the vessel was eventually salvaged but, due to extensive damage, it was declared a total loss.

Now a year later, the Isle of Man Ship Registry, to which the Chesire was registered, released its casualty report into the incident, which determined that the thermal decomposition of the ammonium-based fertilizer cargo took place despite the fact that all required safeguards were in place on board the vessel.

Related: INTERCARGO Analyzes 10 Years of Bulk Carrier Casualties

Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (non-hazardous) is currently designated in the IMSBC Code as a group C cargo, meaning it does not liquefy (group A) nor possess chemical hazards (group B).

INTERCARGO says it is clear from the Cheshire incident that this cargo, or at least some of the ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers shipped as this cargo, should not be treated as group C.

“It is INTERCARGO’s hope that future work at the IMO will lead to the correct designation and description of this cargo within the IMSBC Code, thus furthering the safer carriage of cargoes and safer voyages,” INTERCARGO said in a statement following the release the report.

The report makes some important recommendations including: amending the misleading cargo name from “Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (non-hazardous)” to “Ammonium Nitrate Based Fertilizer (not otherwise classified)”, the fertilizer manufacturers to provide further information on the behavior and carriage of this cargo, and consideration of whether the current IMO-stipulated test for assessment of self-sustaining decomposition properties of an ammonium nitrate based fertilizer is adequate.

Other recommendations in the report include the provision of specialist equipment onboard the vessel, monitoring of the cargo atmosphere by the crew, and the development of cargo and ship specific procedures related to the carriage of this cargo. It is INTERCARGO’s strong opinion that these additional precautions, which are being called upon to be the responsibility of the vessel, ought to be unnecessary if the cargo is group C.

“The IMSBC Code, which is mandatory under SOLAS, stipulates that the Shipper should provide the vessel with all the appropriate information that enables a cargo to be carried safely. It is INTERCARGO’s belief that accurate cargo information, provided by the shipper, is the cornerstone for the safe carriage of bulk cargoes,” said INTERCARGO.

We encourage you to read the Isle of Man Ship Registry’s casualty report (opens as PDF)