The UK P&I Club gets to grips with nickel ore - 18th February 2011

Marine insurers are determined to keep the subject of dangerous bulk cargoes, and in particular nickel ores and iron ore fines, high on the Loss Prevention agenda. The UK Club's latest initiative is an aide-mémoire for shipowners and shipmanagers in the form of a pocket leaflet that can be kept handy when a vessel is chartered to load such a cargo.

Iron ore fines and nickel ore are frequently presented for loading in a dangerous condition. The International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) sets out the internationally agreed provisions for the safe stowage and shipment of solid bulk cargoes, including cargoes that might liquefy such as iron ore fines and nickel ore, but several P&I clubs have reported that owners and their ship masters are being asked to load cargoes that have moisture levels that exceed the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML) and Flow Moisture Point (FMP) figures that are specified in the IMSBC Code.

The consequences of loading these unsafe cargoes can be catastrophic. The list of ships that have capsized or come close to capsizing since 2009 is now in double figures and rising, as is the death toll. And these ships are not 'rust buckets', in one case, a 55,000dwt vessel just 18 months old, capsized with the loss of 21 crew.

So why is it happening? The shipment of iron ore and nickel ore fines has grown dramatically, principally due to demand from China. According to Karl Lumbers, the UK P&I Club's Loss Prevention Director, these shipments are loaded in areas where moisture migration has soaked what has previously been considered a perfectly safe bulk cargo. The high moisture content (MC) may be inherent in the mined ore due to a high water table, or caused by soaking tropical rains and a lack of drainage whilst stored. In any case, once the TML is exceeded it should not be loaded.

However, owners and masters are put under enormous pressure to load these cargoes. Some cargo surveyors are ill-equipped to carry out the necessary surveys while other reputable surveyors who are recommended by the P&I clubs, suffer intimidation to the point of violence or threats to their families.

UK Club Claims Director Graham Daines said, "The UK Club supports those of its Members facing these problems by sending an appropriate expert to the ship as soon as possible. A significant number of shippers have shown a total disregard for the situation and exert pressure on cargo surveyors to enable them to load the cargo regardless of the potential danger."

The incidents involving ships owned by UK P&I Club members have largely centred around iron ore fines loaded in Indian ports and Lumbers applauds the initiatives being taken by the Directorate General of Shipping in Mumbai, which is determined to stamp out this practice of intimidation. However such action has yet to be seen in the nickel ore producing nations of Indonesia and the Philippines, the latter most surprising since so many Filipino nationals are seafarers whose lives are being put at risk by those who would load these cargoes.

Daines pointed out that almost all of the ships lost have been bound for China and many of them have had Chinese crew. The Club is assisting Chinese owners' loss prevention efforts in regard to ore fines cargoes and working to increase general awareness of the problem. He believes that if Chinese importers exercised their influence over their suppliers with a bit more vigour, fewer dangerous cargoes would be loaded.

In the meantime

As Lumbers points out though, we are living in the present time and we have to deal with the situation as it is now.

The Club's own practical initiative is the aide-mémoire providing guidance for shippers, shipowners, charterers, surveyors, ships' crews and other parties involved in the sampling and testing of cargoes of iron ore fines so as to ensure that it is carried out in accordance with the IMSBC Code. This document has been distributed in paper format to its Members and is now available for download from its website.

The Club stresses that these notes are not a substitute for the Code itself and if there is any doubt, the Code should always be consulted.

The aide-mémoire covers the following topics:

Provision of information

The shipper must provide the master or his representatives with appropriate information on the cargo sufficiently in advance of loading to enable precautions for proper stowage and safe carriage to be put into effect. For iron ore fines the aide-mémoire lists what information should be included.

Certificates of test

The shipper has to arrange for the cargo to be properly sampled and tested to obtain the necessary information and again the aide-mémoire lists what is required.

Sampling procedures

The Club states that a visual inspection of the consignment which is to form the ship's cargo should be carried out. Any portions of material which appear to be contaminated or significantly different in characteristics or moisture content from the bulk of the consignment should be sampled and analysed separately. The aide-mémoire details what should be taken into account.

The aide-mémoire then deals with issues such as stockpiles, barges and cargo stows in ship's holds before moving on to can testing and speedy moisture meters.

Can testing and speedy moisture meters

The can test as set out in Section 8 of the Code, is described as an 'auxiliary' test method. It is not intended to replace more rigorous laboratory testing procedures, which deliver more accurate information.

The Club notes that it is routine in Goa for barges of iron ore fines to be accepted and rejected on the basis of can testing conducted throughout the course of loading by local surveyors representing owners and charterers/shippers. However, despite the care with which barges are checked using the can test, in a number of cases, subsequent sampling in the holds and analysis has shown the loaded cargo to have an MC above the TML. This, the Club says, serves to illustrate the difficulty associated with interpretation of can tests performed upon this material and the risk of using it to approve cargoes as being fit for carriage in place of properly conducted laboratory testing.

The practice of using speedy moisture meters to monitor iron ore fines during loading appears to be becoming increasingly common, with a number of the Indian surveying companies now using these meters routinely for this purpose.

The Club believes that there are serious limitations associated with these meters and that those using them should be aware of these issues. After itemising some of these issues, the aide-mémoire reaches the conclusion that these meters are unsuitable for monitoring the moisture content of iron ore fines shipments during loading.

The UK P&I Club is tackling this issue in conjunction with the other P&I clubs of the International Group of P&I Clubs, the most initiative recent being a Loss Prevention Bulletin (no 739) on the Safe Carriage of Nickel Ore Cargoes, based on an International Group circular. Dated 28 January 2011, it can be found on the UK Club's website (



Issued by:

David Cheslin

Dunelm Public Relations

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7345 5232

Fax: +44 (0) 20 7345 5234



On behalf of:

Nick Whitear

Thomas Miller P&I Ltd

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7283 4646



Staff Author