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Thursday July 29th, 2021

Sri Lanka official on X-Press Pearl fire: loading conflicts on dangerous goods are usually detected

STOWAGE: Cargo is expected to be stored safely under IMDG code. Shippers are also required to make correct declarations.

ECONOMYNEXT – Terminals and vessels have checks to ensure that dangerous goods are safely stowed, an industry official said in response to questions whether a loading conflict could have triggered a fire on board the Sri Lanka bound X-Press Pearl.

Ships are loaded based on the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG code) requirements and are routinely carried in ships.

“When stowage planning is done by each terminal, they have segregation requirements and separation requirements, if not it will show up (in the software),” Colombo Port’s Harbour Master Nirmal Silva told reporters on June 03.

“I would believe that it was planned in the proper way as required by the IMDG code because that will come up in the stowage planning.”

Dangerous goods are classified into nine classes.

According to available information X-Press Pearl carried Class 03 flammable perfumery products, vinyl acetate, Class 04 flammable solids such as sodium methylate, class 8 Corrosive substances such as caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide) and nitric acid.

Others included Class 9 miscellaneous dangerous substances like polymeric beads (which can leak pentane) and lithium batteries.

Other dangerous goods classes include explosives (Class 01) and gases (02). Goods can be labelled dangerous not just because they are are flammable but also because gasses are under pressure they are are toxic or infectious (Class 06).

However most ships routinely carry dangerous goods, subject to IMDG requirements.

Some classes of goods cannot be carried in holds while others cannot be stowed next to each other.
Terminal operating systems are usually used to track cargo.

“Explosives cannot be stored down below,” Silva explained. “There are so many conditions for each and every class.

“Even within the class there are conditions which are taken into account, when stowage planning is done by the terminal.

“When the terminal plans the stowage and when they give the plan to the ship, the ship’s personnel check on that and confirms it is ok. When they check through their loading program on board it will show up if there is any conflict with dangerous cargoes.”

Shippers (exporters) are expected to correctly declare and label dangerous goods.

Sri Lanka has seen a spike in smuggling and mis-declared cargo following import bans in 2020. A new plastic ban has also gone into effect. Deliberately mis-declaring cargo will also lead to accidents, even if human error was not responsible, an industry analyst said.

X-Press Pearl had sought assistance in ‘re-working’ a leaking nitric acid container on May 20, shortly before the first fire started.

Silva said earlier that no definite link had been established between the leaking container and the fire, which first broke out in the number 02 hold of the ship. Surveyors had to board the ship to carry out an investigation, he said.

The vessel carried over 40 containers of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) running into hundreds of thousands of tonnes including on Bay 11, below the acid container in the hold, according to available information.

X-Press Pearl is now half submerged in the shallows off Colombo Port.

Sri Lanka’s police have launched a criminal probe on the fire and has been questioning the officers and crew, over the past week. (Colombo/May05/2021)

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