Investigating the Hazards of Marine Cargo

On 23 and 28 January and 4 February 2020 Dr Sophie Parsons, of Hawkins’ London Office, gave presentations on the Hazards of Investigating Marine Claims. She was joined on the final date by Mr Paul Willis, of Hawkins’ Bristol Office, who gave an accompanying presentation on Coal Cargoes.

Sophie’s presentation describes how erroneous weights and mis-declared contents are major safety hazards for container ships, as well as the many physical dangers of being on board a vessel. She also covered each step of on-site work when looking into the cause of a marine claim including inspection, sampling, identification of cargo/incident material, and the assessment of damage. Sometimes, even the way to get on the ship presents immediate difficulties and dangers for the investigator. 

dangerous ways of boarding a vessel

Investigations that Dr Parsons has carried out include failed stanchions, cracked hulls, failed rudders, blistering on the lining of tanks, incorrect stowage of cargo, corroded steel cargo and liquefaction of cargo. Carefully checking the condition of all cargo, and complying with relevant laws and codes based on the cargo’s type is imperative for both the correct transportation of the cargo as well as the safety of a ship’s crew. In the example of cargo liquefaction, the change in composition of a cargo like nickel ore from a solid to a liquid can cause a ship to sway and capsize as the result of displacement of the cargo.

Mr Willis’ presentation concentrated on coal, as it is an especially volatile kind of cargo, which is usually shipped on bulk carriers such as barges and cranes. Some self-loading ships (pictured below) are also used to transfer coal in large quantities. The hazards of shipping coal include:

  • Liquefaction - which can alter the stability of the ship
  • Corrosion - which can damage the ship
  • the production of methane - which can cause explosions
  • Oxygen depletion - which can cause asphyxiation of nearby crew
  • Self-heating - which can cause fires and the emission of toxic gases 

coal cargo on the deck of a vessel

In any case of cargo loading, there should always be the opportunity to make an informed decision not to load any cargo in poor condition onto a vessel, for the safety of all involved. With coal specifically, its type will determine how it is handled in the early stages of a voyage, based on whether it is a self-heating or a methane-emitting coal. The age, moisture content and previous handling of the cargo should all be taken into account. Daily monitoring of cargo in holds spaces is also a Bulk Code provision.

When in doubt, it is best to give an expert a call. If you have any questions about marine cargoes, please contact us

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