UK P&I Club relaunches IMDG Code booklets - 16 September 2013

Handling dangerous goods improperly can be very dangerous indeed

Dangerous goods have long been involved in serious transport incidents, onshore and at sea, resulting in deaths, injuries, massive rescue operations and huge commercial losses.

Typically, packages spill their contents and cause fires, explosions and toxic or corrosive gas releases. Dealing with such incidents is hard enough on land but at sea it can be almost impossible.

Containers may be badly packed and secured or house incompatible substances, with the potential hazard masked by poor marking and labelling and reinforced by inadequate or even false documentation. During loading, boxes may be inadequately secured and inappropriately positioned, relative to the contents of others nearby and their exposure to the elements and extreme seas.

However, every day, thousands of containers carrying dangerous goods are moved across the world's oceans and the volume is likely to increase. With 16/18,000TEU merchant marine leviathans now coming increasingly into service, the risk of incidents and huge consequences creates even greater safety issues for everyone involved in the carriage of these goods.

Such considerations highlight the vital importance of complying with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code to avoid incidents and to reduce the consequences of those that do occur.

Accordingly, the UK P&I Club has revised and reissued the four booklets in its 'Book it Right and Pack it Tight' series. First produced eight years ago, these practical straightforward, well-illustrated, cross-referenced guides have been updated to embrace changes brought in by amendments to the Code.

The booklets explain how all those involved in particular stages of the logistics chain should follow the IMDG Code and work to its stipulations in preparing containerised shipments of packaged dangerous goods for carriage by sea. The second part of each booklet is a comprehensive guide to the Code itself.

The four guides, compiled by Richard Masters for the UK Club's Carefully To Carry Committee, have benefited from advice and information from China Ocean Shipping Company, Evergreen Marine Corp, Exis Technologies Limited, Maersk Group, Malaysia International Shipping Company, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Orient Overseas Container Line and P&O Nedlloyd. They are designed for:

  • Shippers and forwarders, who classify dangerous goods and prepare the documentation requested by shipping lines.
  • Shipping line booking staff charged with receiving and checking the details of dangerous cargoes who have to ensure---as far as possible---that the information is comprehensive and accurate.
  • Managers and supervisors of organisations which pack dangerous goods into shipping containers and conduct loading operations.
  • Fork lift operators who work inside containers stacking, loading and securing dangerous goods----and need to protect themselves.

Given recent incidents and claims, the UK Club regard handling dangerous goods as a major area for improving safe practice right across the globe. Consequently, the books will be available to containership members in both English and Chinese.

Since accidents may stem from actions anywhere in the logistics chain, all four titles include a strong plea that operatives should be trained to carry out their activities in line with the IMDG Code.

Those packing their own containers are legally responsible for segregation, proper securing and accurate documentation. Erroneous documentation restricts the scope for emergency response----and raises the hazard content for people and cargoes.

However, the Club has noted that many people packing dangerous goods do not understand the potential hazards and are unaware of the IMDG Code rules for safe loading, stacking and securing packages for sea transport.

A shipper entrusting dangerous goods to a consolidator should visit the premises, inspect his work and check on his standards of care and attention.

Despite assurances that all is in order, random inspections of shipping containers worldwide reveal an alarming rate of non-compliance with the basic IMDG Code rules for packing and securing.

The Committee has also observed many cases where dangerous goods have been loaded in an unsafe way and have damaged cargo. Unskilled and inexperienced cargo handlers should work under supervision until they become sufficiently skilled. Load plans should be prepared by experienced and responsible personnel.

Deliberate negligence in handling and packing dangerous goods breaches international maritime agreements, is bad business and may lead to criminal prosecution.

Where incompatible goods are loaded in the same container or stacked in proximity, both the cargo immediately concerned in an ensuing incident and others nearby may be destroyed, causing delays and extra expense in cleaning up spillage and repacking. Cargo may be confiscated by enforcement agencies with a view to prosecution, fines and claims for financial compensation.

In his foreword to each guide, Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the UK's Maritime & Coastguard Agency, has concluded: "The problems always begin onshore but the consequences are usually played out at sea, sometimes taking the lives of mariners and risking the largest capital investments ever made by ship operators.

"Only compliance with the IMDG Code will prevent future incidents and losses, and compliance can only be achieved through understanding."

The UK P&I Club and Exis Technologies are offering a free mobile app that complements the DG guides and provides quick and easy access to information in the IMDG Code Dangerous Good List (DGL). Available for iPhone, Blackberry and android devices. To download your app, visit: Club has made available four Powerpoint presentations as additional training aids, each of which provides complementary material to support the guidebooks. These presentations can be downloaded from the loss prevention section of the UK Club website -

Staff Author