Standard Bulk Cargo Liquefaction

The Standard Club’s loss prevention programme is focused on best practice to help avert claims that are avoidable. In our commitment to safety at sea, and to the prevention of accidents, casualties and pollution, the club issues a variety of safety-related publications. This edition of Standard Cargo focuses on a subject that has been highlighted by a number of bulk carrier ship sinkings: cargo liquefaction. In 2010, the majority of bulk carrier deaths were attributed to cargo liquefaction. This Standard Cargo has an emphasis on iron ore fines from India and nickel ore from Indonesia and the Philippines, but the advice in it is also applicable to other cargos susceptible to liquefaction. The issue of liquefaction affects bulk carriers of all sizes, but liquefaction can affect all ships carrying bulk ores including dry general cargo ships that load parcels of bulk cargo. Cargo liquefaction has been of concern to seafarers for over a century, and it is shocking to find it reappearing to cause loss of seafarers’ lives once more.

The carriage of bulk mineral ore has become a focal point after the recent loss in 2010 of three bulk carriers within 40 days, resulting in the deaths of 40 seafarers. The third ship lost, the Hong Wei carrying 40,000 tonnes of nickel ore, sank with the loss of 10 crew. The loss of these ships is believed to have been associated with liquefaction of the cargo, with excessively high moisture content (referred to as MC) in excess of its transportable moisture limit (commonly referred to as TML). All three ships loaded nickel ore in Indonesia. It is known that at least two other ships have had serious incidents, where the ship developed an angle of loll and had to be escorted to the discharge port or beached. There may well be other incidents that have not been reported.

There have also been recent losses of ships (two in 2009) after loading iron ore fines in India, again suffering liquefaction of the cargo. Masters, ship’s officers and chartering managers should understand the dangers of liquefaction of certain cargos – usually wet mineral ore fines, but also other cargos such as coal slurry and wet sand.

The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO) issued a news release calling on shipowners and cargo interests to review their testing and safety procedures in shipping such cargo (a copy of the news release can be found at The International Group of P&I Clubs have also released circulars to their members warning of the dangers associated with the carriage of iron ore fines and nickel ore, and this can be found on the Standard Club website at In 2009, two bulk carriers, the Asian Forest and the Black Rose sank while carrying iron ore fines during the monsoon season. The Indian Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) investigated the sinking’s and concluded that the cause was liquefaction as a consequence of excessive moisture in the cargo. In August 2010 the Indian DGS issued its Merchant Shipping Notice No.9 titled Safe loading, stowage, carriage and discharging of iron ore fines on ships from Indian Ports in fair and foul season (a copy of this notice can be found at However the notice focuses primarily on the duties of the master, when in fact the problem rests as much if not more with the shipper (and the authorities) for not complying with their legal obligation under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code to supply the correct information, such as the moisture content, transportable moisture limit, and flow moisture point (commonly referred to as FMP).

Masters must clearly understand the whole subject, and should have the support of the company and charterer when making a decision in the interests of safety. Although the Notice issued in India deals with the ramifications of oil pollution and wreck removal as a result of ships capsizing, the issue is primarily one of seafarer safety. Loss of life resulting from cargo carriage is at stake.

The Notice however makes some important points:

  1. shipper to provide the master with appropriate cargo information as stated within the IMSBC Code, in advance of loading iron ore fines.
  2. port authority to ensure shipper provides current cargo information such as moisture content, transportable moisture limit, flow moisture point and cargo density
  3. masters to verify moisture content before loading (e.g. appointed ship’s surveyor taking cargo samples and analysing them)
  4. master to use his authority under International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to stop loading when necessary
  5. master to report to the competent authority as well as his owner/manager and local P&I correspondent if the shipper or port terminal does not provide the proper information and is not co-operating, thereby posing a safety threat to the ship


Popular Posts