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Caution advised when carrying Solomon Islands nickel ore

Group Club NorthStandard has advised members and clients that over recent months an Increasing number of shipments of nickel ore from the Solomon Islands have been a cause for concern.

The increase in shipments has in part been due to increased investment in the region. The recent severe civil unrest in French territory New Caledonia, another common region for Nickel Ore, meant that the Solomon Islands had become a safer alternative.

Cargo experts Roxburgh have reported that the material has similar properties to the Nickel Ore exported from Surigao in the Philippines. This includes a high proportion of clays, which can in turn lead to a high fine particle content. That if found in a large enough percentage, can cause handling and ship stability issues.

The cargo is known as a direct shipped ore, which means it has minimal processing before being loaded onboard. This can lead to an unknown range of cargo particle sizes, along with sand, silt and clay being predominant in the loaded cargo. The presence of these three materials affects the way the cargo behaves at different moisture contents when the cargo is stressed.

Cargo stress occurs both during the handling of the cargo ashore, on load, and also as a result of the vessel’s motion at sea. It had been noted that, due to the composition of the cargo, it has been prone to the retention of water if exposed to rainfall – and/or if the material was inherently wet when extracted from the mine.

Roxburgh said that, because of the high clay content, it was likely that the TML test method employed in the region, the flow table test, would be inadequate for obtaining an accurate assessment of the cargo. “Previously issued test certification would also appear unrepresentative of the cargo consignments presented to Members for loading”, NorthStandard said.

Members were advised to remain vigilant and reject any portions of the cargo presented for loading that demonstrated a soft, wet, or sticky composition. If any can tests demonstrate that the material is significantly reducing in volume in the can, then loading should be suspended and the barge rejected. If water begins to emerge from the material at any time during loading and/or can testing, this would indicate that the cargo could be unstable and liable to shift during carriage.

Roxburgh recommended that shippers provide evidence that:

  1. Procedures are in place to prevent the exposure of the stockpiles to rainfall.
  2. Each barge consignment presented for loading has been sampled and tested in accordance with procedures that comply with the guidance in MSC.1/Circ 1454/Rev.2, as it is likely that both the moisture content and TML of portions of the consignment will vary over time.

Additionally where possible, Members should request the following information from Shippers:

  • Particle size distribution of the cargo consignment overall with specific focus on the <1mm size ranges
  • Moisture content range for the consignment overall
  • TML result and confirmation of the methodology used
  • As-loaded bulk density
  • Photographs of the stockpiled material
  • Information on where samples were collected from i.e. conveyor, falling stream or stockpile
  • Methodology for sample collection
  • How many samples were collected and the sample size and were the samples homogenised
  • How many samples were tested for both moisture content and TML determination purposes

NorthStandard reminded members that IMSBC Code 2022 section 8, which covers the can test method, is appropriate for use on this material from the perspective of noting the evidence of ‘fluid conditions’ only. This material will not drain readily; therefore water will often not be seen in a can test except at high degrees of saturation. It will however become less resistant to stress with increasing moisture contents, which can be noted by the ship’s crew as it will become softer and stickier.