X-Press Pearl fire highlights duty of care issues: TT Club

Transport and logistics mutual insurer TT Club has urged all those involved in the movement of dangerous  cargoes “to step up to their responsibilities and to act with transparency and diligence in matters of safety in transport”.

The statement came after what the club described as “the appalling events still unfolding at an anchorage off Colombo”

The X-Press Pearl foundered less than 10nm off the Sri Lankan coastline after burning for two weeks as a result of what was suspected to be poorly packed nitric acid. The crew were reported to have been aware of the leak but to have been unable to find a port where the relevant containers could be unloaded and dealt with.

TT Club said that “the vast majority” of container ship fires were initiated by a cargo of a hazardous nature. The Club said that it had been campaigning for some time to reduce these “life-threatening, cargo and ship damaging, environmentally impactful and highly costly events”.

It said that it had been seeking changes in regulatory requirements to improve the clarity, application, implementation and enforcement of mandatory regulations, including the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

TT Club Risk Management Director Peregrine Storrs-Fox  said that “effective review of regulations is to be applauded.  Indeed, the latest meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee debated in detail the issue of container ship fires.  However, such consideration will not result in speedy change”.

Storrs-Fox said that “holistic industry led initiatives are necessary. An understanding by all the actors in the supply chain of safe packaging, packing, loading and unloading of containers, and of the need for detailed, accurate information of the cargo’s attributes and any potentially hazardous reactions to any eventuality occurring through the entire transit, is necessary.  Above all truth, trust and transparency must guide all involved.”

Storrs Fox said that he in no way underestimated the extent of the task.  “It is a significant challenge to have all those responsible for the safe dispatch of general cargo to follow the CTU Code, particularly when often done on behalf of other parties and disconnected from transport risks”, adding that “however, dangerous goods are subject to mandatory regulation. In the case of this casualty, we see another element to the problem.  The offending cargo was apparently correctly declared, with its relevant properties known, and presumably originating from an experienced shipper.  Yet for whatever reason the packaging was inappropriate or the packing and/or securing within the container was insufficient, resulting in a dangerous leakage.  While supply chains are complex and the hazards numerous, relevant knowledge and guidance are critical, within a control environment that must include effective inspection and enforcement regimes.”