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Bauxite headed for highest risk category after wreck

According to accident report, shipper's declaration concerning Bulk Jupiter's bauxite cargo was useless. Much stricter guidelines look set to be implemented, the Danish Maritime Authority tells ShippingWatch.

Photo: IMO

When a so-called correspondence group of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meets in one year to make proposals for new guidelines for the transport of bauxite after Bulk Jupiter's tragic sinking on January 2 of this year, the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) expects to see current guidelines significantly tightened.

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For certain types of shipments, bauxite could be upgraded the highest risk rating, as group A cargo. This means that in the future, there will be completely different requirements for cargo description, analysis and risk than the criteria demanded by bauxite's current status as Group C cargo, a rating that has been in force for years and terms the substance as harmless cargo.

The accident report on Bulk Jupiter's shipwreck deemed it likely that the ship sank because the moisture content of the cargo, consisting of 46,400 tons of bauxite, was well over 10 percent. This is more than twice the recommended humidity limit for the transport of bauxite. As a result, the cargo transformed from a sand-like substance into a liquid mass just two days into the voyage, after which the Bulk Jupiter capsized and sank within 20 minutes.

IMO warns bulk carriers of dangerous bauxite cargoes

"I find it hard to imagine anything other than a future where some bauxite-loads will fall under category A, so you will continue to get different standards for the sea transport of bauxite, whereby some loads will continue to be classified as harmless cargoes," says Steen Møller Nielsen, chief consultant at the Danish Maritime Authority, to ShippingWatch.

Temporary safety

Steen Møller Nielsen represented the Maritime Authority at a meeting on September 18 at the IMO committee's Carriage of Containers and Cargoes (CCC) where Bulk Jupiter's shipwreck was on the agenda. The meeting adopted a temporary warning to shipping with a renewed recommendation to the captains to only take bauxite cargo on board if a number of conditions are met:

  • The moisture limit for the specific cargo is certified as less than the indicative moisture limit of 10% and the particle size distribution as is detailed in the individual schedule for bauxite in the IMSBC Code; or
  • The cargo is declared as Group A (cargoes that may liquefy) and the shipper declares the transportable moisture limit (TML) and moisture content; or
  • The cargo has been assessed as not presenting Group A properties. Simultaneously, the captain is urged to verify the cargo information if there is the slightest doubt about its authenticity.

"Everyone at the meeting agreed that something must be done as soon as possible," says Steen Møller Nielsen.

It is already the shipper's responsibility to provide the captain with accurate information about cargo characteristics. In the case of Bulk Jupiter, the load was characterized as harmless, even though the moisture content of the cargo was originally reported to be 10 percent. Both were wrong, according to the accident report undertaken by the Bahamas Maritime Authority.

Useless shipper declarations

The investigators reviewed shipper statements for three ships departing between December 2014 and January 2015 which loaded bauxite in the Malaysian port of Kuantan, so the authorities did not only investigate the Bulk Jupiter, which sank early in the morning of January 2 of this year and saw 18 of a total 19 crew members perish.

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However the report comes close to dismissing the shipper declarations for all three ships, namely the Mv Bulk Jupiter, the Mv Orchid Island and the Mv Medi Okinawa, as complete useless:

"The cargo declaration forms provided to all three vessels bear little resemblance to the cargo loaded, it can therefore be determined that the declaration forms are considered generic and provide no useful information on the actual cargo as loaded," said the report, which determined that the tested moisture content was 21.3 percent for Bulk Jupiter and 15.01 percent for Medi Okinawa.

Simultaneously, evidence in the form of photos of the cargo on board Orchid Island showed that the cargo's surface was flowing with water.

The Asian shipping group Winning Shipping, shipper and charterer of the Bulk Jupiter, was sharply criticized for failing to come forward with vital information in relation to the investigation of the tragic accident.

Terror in hold 4

Winning Shipping, which describes itself as a specialist in the transport of bauxite to Chinese smelters, also appears as a “sub-charter” of Orchid Island. The latter arrived at Kuantan on the 27 December 2014 to load 43, 200 tons of bauxite in around the same period that Bulk Jupiter loaded its cargo in the same Malaysian port.

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Bulk Jupiter sank after 56.6 hours at sea, en route to the Chinese port city of Qingdau.

On January 3, the day after the shipwreck, Orchid Island’s owner, Japanese Mitsui O.S.K Lines (MOL) directed the ship's captain to immediately check the cargo on board.

"To my horror, I saw that the cargo in hold four had become liquid, and the substance's surface was now flat and moved side to side in a jelly-like fashion. There was also water in each corner on the surface of the cargo," noted one ship's officer on board the Orchid Island after the inspection.

The ship was subsequently ordered to seek safe harbor.

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