TT Club Releases ‘Book It Right And Pack It Tight’

By Peregrine Storrs-Fox

The importance of maintaining best practices when shipping dangerous goods cannot be overstated. Thursday marked the tenth anniversary of the MSC Flaminia’s fateful Atlantic crossing, which claimed the lives of three sailors and caused extensive damage to the cargo and ship.

The forensic investigations and litigation that followed the MSC Flaminia incident adequately demonstrate the complexity of shipping dangerous goods through the maritime supply chain in terms of regulations, practices and expectations. The judgment of 2018 in the liability phase of the legal dispute offers an excellent analysis of the logistics process and is worth reading for that reason alone.

The court found that the shipper had not taken into account the nature of the cargo and the special circumstances of this shipment. Likewise, it found that the Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) had failed to act on the extensive information provided by the shipper and, in particular, had failed to share critical information about the cargo with the carrier. Based on this reasoning, both the shipper and NVOCC were held strictly liable under the US Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA). The matter remains unresolved 10 years later and can only be appealed, showing one of the long-term effects of such incidents.

Regulation responds to incidents

Legal battle aside, lessons were learned from this tragic incident which have subsequently been incorporated into the relevant regulations, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code). In two iterations of the IMDG, new United Nations numbers were created for this product type within Division 4.1 for polymerizing substances, followed by additional requirements for cargoes so classified that are to be transported under temperature control. However, the process of amending the IMDG Code (and related United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, commonly known as UN Model Regulations or “Orange Book”) is lengthy and it took several years for these amendments to become mandatory. Worryingly, in late 2021, the TT Club was informed that the commodity in question was still incorrectly declared under the previous Class 9 UN number.

Errors, misunderstandings, misdeclarations and inadequate packaging and securing are the root cause of many significant incidents, both at sea and in storage facilities. As ultra-large container ships continue to grow in size – the largest currently have more than three times the capacity of MSC Flaminia – the potential for economic, human and environmental impact increases proportionately.

IMDG Code 101

The IMDG code was originally developed almost six decades ago as an international code for the maritime transport of dangerous goods in packaged form. The quest was to improve practices, enable the safe movement of dangerous goods and reduce the risks of disaster, injury, property loss and environmental damage. In addition, since January 1st, 2004, within the framework of the SOLAS Convention (Safety of Life at Sea), training has been mandatory for all persons involved in bringing dangerous goods into the maritime supply chain.

Since its initial inception, the IMDG Code has been updated every two years to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of the industry and to respond to lessons learned from incidents. Changes to the IMDG Code typically come from two sources: proposals submitted directly to the International Maritime Organization by member governments or industry associations with consultative status, and changes to reflect changes to the UN Model Regulations, which set the essential requirements for all modes of transport.

As a minimum standard for all dangerous goods transports by sea, compliance with the currently binding version of the IMDG code is essential. In fact, the MSC Flaminia judgment even clarified that the regulations are merely the basis, an important statement for any organization or individual inclined to rely solely on the ‘letter’ for the shipment of dangerous goods.

‘Book it right and pack it tight’

Recognizing the importance of getting everything right, the TT Club has teamed up again with the UK’s P&I Club to support all participants in the maritime supply chain in publishing a detailed guide to IMDG requirements: ‘Book it right and grab it tight. This version of the guidance reflects the updates in Amendment 40-20 to the IMDG, which has been available for voluntary application since January 1, 2020, but became mandatory on June 1 of this year.

“Book it right and pack it tight” provides important insights for all participants in the cargo supply chain responsible for preparing unit shipments of dangerous goods for ocean transport. The guide is intended to assist shippers, freight forwarders, shipping company booking staff and those who pack dangerous goods in cargo transport units (CTUs) in the technical aspects of the IMDG Code. The aim is to influence behaviors and compliance levels by helping all stakeholders understand their own responsibilities and the responsibilities of their counterparties in the global supply chain.

The guide is divided into two parts. Part A of the guide breaks the process of preparing and booking cargo into practical steps and examines the roles and requirements of those involved in each step:

  • Step 1: Classification of Dangerous Goods.
  • Step 2: Choice of packaging.
  • Step 3: Identification and labeling of the packages.
  • Step 4: Preparation of the transport document for booking with the shipping company.
  • Step 5: Applying the Separation Rules.
  • Step 6: Packing the transport unit.
  • Step 7: Creation of the packing certificate for the transport unit.

Part B provides background information on the IMDG Code, classification and references to further material.

Cargo integrity is important

Closely related to the questions specific to dangerous goods are the more general questions of cargo packaging in general. The IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Conduct for Packing Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code) does not remain mandatory international law, but is clearly referenced by the IMDG Code.

Likewise, “Book it right and pack it tight” refers to the CTU Code as the definitive industry code of conduct for packing and securing cargo of all types in cargo transport units and calls on all operators to adopt the principles contained therein and so the Operation improve practices methods exercises.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox is Director of Risk Management at TT Club, a provider of mutual insurance and related risk management services to the international transport and logistics industry.

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