Misdeclaration of cargo increasing risk on board

A growing number and array of goods are being transported by sea and in containers, including electronics and, increasingly, chemical products. However, dangerous goods are not always properly declared, which can have dire consequences given larger vessel sizes, reported Allianz’s commercial insurance arm AGCS in its latest Safety Shipping Review.

It said that the growing number of cargo fire incidents at sea – including at least three in two months at the start of 2019 – was an obvious cause of concern for the shipping industry, prompting questions about what may be behind them.

Previous safety issues, such as improper packing, loading, labelling and shipping of hazardous cargoes were once again under the spotlight.

Régis Broudin, Global Head of Marine Claims at AGCS, said that “with several major incidents in a matter of months, fires on board container ships – potentially coming from misdeclared cargo – are a hot topic. The large size and capacity of container ships today increases the risk of cargo misdeclaration and therefore of something going wrong. Misdeclared cargo can happen on mega container ships by virtue of their sheer volume. The greater the number of containers stowed, the more chance there is of a mistake, such as storing dangerous cargo close to a hot spot like the engine. Meanwhile, the size of the vessel can make it harder to access a fire and impede attempts to extinguish it.”

The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association has estimated that some six million containers contain dangerous goods, and nearly 1.3m of those boxes were not packed properly or were identified incorrectly. Containerized shipments were misdeclared for a variety of reasons, “most notably to avoid the additional costs and requirements associated with transporting certain cargos”, said AGCS.

Preventing cargo fires saved lives and property at sea, said Volker Dierks, Head of Marine Underwriting, Central and Eastern Europe at AGCS. “Increasingly, more goods are containerized, and many more substances will be transported on container ships in the future. Yet it is not always understood about the risks that certain circumstances pose (for example, incorrect stowage or temperature).”