X-Press PearlX-Press Pearl

The TT Club says the fire aboard the X-Press Pearl off the coast of Sri Lanka once again illustrates the need for ensuring the safe transport of dangerous cargo.

The TT Club, with a global network that includes offices in London, Hong Kong, Sydney and New Jersey, provides insurance and related risk-management services to the transportation and logistics industry. 

“The X-Press Pearl’s sad fate is the latest in a disappointing recent and persistent catalog of container ship fires of varying degrees of severity, which occur on an almost weekly basis,” the TT Club said in a statement Thursday. “The vast majority of these are initiated by cargo of a hazardous nature. One estimate puts the number of mis- or undeclared dangerous cargoes in excess of 150,000 containers a year — each of which has disastrous potential.  

“While still to be fully investigated, the catalyst for the inferno on the X-Press Pearl has been asserted to be a leakage of nitric acid, which was correctly declared but apparently incorrectly packaged or packed,” it said. 

The BBC reported the X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers, some filled with nitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics, when it caught fire May 20 near the Port of Colombo. This week the Singapore-registered vessel broke apart and began sinking. Hundreds of tons of oil from the ship’s tanks is expected to pollute the ocean and Sri Lankan coast. All crew members had been safely evacuated.

Millions of plastic pellets, the raw material used for shopping bags, already have covered stretches of Sri Lanka’s coast, according to the BBC. 

Last year the TT Club estimated that the international maritime industry incurs losses of $6 billion annually because of incorrectly packed or documented cargo.

The TT Club has been campaigning to reduce the number of “these life-threatening, cargo- and ship-damaging, environmentally impactful and highly costly events.” This includes promotion of the adoption of the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units — the CTU Code. 

Issued in 2014, the CTU Code, which applies to packing and transport operations throughout the supply chain, was jointly developed by the International Maritime Organization, International Labor Organization and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, the TT Club’s risk management director, told American Shipper last year that there has not been significant improvement in incident statistics since the code was issued. 

“From the TT Club’s perspective, one of the frustrations despite putting out advice around lots of different cargo issues over decades now, we still find that somewhere around two-thirds of cargo damage-related claims are coming because of some sort of poor practice in terms of packing — load distribution or securing of the cargo — but also documentary things around classification, declaration of cargo, how that’s documented, how the information is passed correctly through the system between different stakeholders by way of data transfer,” Storrs-Fox said then.

The TT Club continues to push for adherence to the CTU Code. Earlier this year it presented three webinars covering container ship fire issues, including safe cargo packing, declaration and stowage of hazardous goods; ship crews’ response to onboard fires; and forensic investigations and legal actions after a shipboard fire. 

The TT Club helped establish a Cargo Integrity Group that produced the CTU Code — Quick Guide and Container Packing Checklist, both available in multiple languages to enable easier access to the guidance. 

“Dangerous goods are subject to mandatory regulation,” Storrs-Fox said. “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,” Storrs-Fox said. 

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