Dry bulk vessel Bulk Jupiter's dramatic wreck around 150 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam on January 1st, in which 18 of 19 crew members are believed to have been killed, has sent shock waves through the international dry bulk industry and among marine insurers.
The ship, from carrier Gasbulk, was loaded with 46,400 tons of bauxite, one of the biggest dry bulk commodities, used to manufacture aluminum, when the ship en-route from port city Kuantan in Malaysia emitted distress signals on January 1st at 10.54 pm UTC and subsequently sank.
Now bauxite could be upgraded to a high-risk cargo.
The direct causes behind the tragic wreck remain unknown, but at Danish carrier D/S Norden, Head of Dry Cargo Operations Jens Christensen confirms that several of the P&I clubs have reacted to the accident and are speculating that one cause could be the cargo, the bauxite, which can become liquefied and thus move around in the cargo holds if the bauxite's humidity becomes too high.
Combine this with a ship that is rolling in the water at high heel, the worst case scenario is that the ship will capsize very quickly.
"We have to await the results of the investigation into this tragic accident. In any case, we expect a very thorough investigation, and then we'll see whether this leads the IMO to reevaluate the codes used in dry bulk shipping."
The so-called IMSBC code, International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes, which has applied to dry bulk for years, specifically addresses the risk of liquefaction and divides dry bulk into three categories, A, B and C.
The risk of liquefaction is specifically mentioned for A cargoes, stating that carriers should always know the exact humidity level in the cargo, which the shipper is required to test.
The risks of bauxite
In accordance with the current and applicable code, bauxite is categorized as a group C cargo, which means that the code does not imply a risk of liquefaction even though accidents have been reported in recent years on board ships carrying bauxite.
"The latest wreck could result in discussions about whether bauxite should be upgraded to an A cargo. If that happens it will be a major change, because shippers will always be required to supply a TML certificate (Transportable Moisture Limit), which requires extensive lab testing and documentation stating the current humidity level," says Jens Christensen.
Norden has not transported bauxite from Malaysia and Indonesia in recent years, but the carrier's ships do load considerable volumes from three major bauxite ports in Guinea, Brazil and Ghana.
"But it's very important to secure complete clarification of the current accident, and we're following developments closely," says Jens Christensen.
At this time the industry is speculating about possible causes for the Jupiter Bulk shipwreck. The ship was built in 2006.
These speculations include cargo humidity, and observers point to the fact that Malaysia in recent months has been hit by massive monsoon rains.
Companies such as American Club, Britannia P&I and Norwegian Hull Club have been mentioned as marine insurers reacting to the accident with an appeal for increased vigilance even though the cause remains completely unknown at this time.
Carrier Gearbulk has published two statements so far concerning the tragic accident, most recently on Monday, January 5th, stating that no additional casualties or parts from the wreck had been recovered. The entire crew hails from the Philippines. The ship's cook is the only survivor at this point, while two deceased crew members have been recovered following the accident.