The London P&I Club has warned that ships are being offered iron ore cargoes for loading in Sierra Leone which are unsafe, and that limited local expertise and technology, together with poor communications, are exacerbating the problems.
In the latest issue of its StopLoss Bulletin, the club notes that, following the end of the country’s ten-year-long civil war, two shippers have resumed exports of iron ore from Sierra Leone. Some of these cargoes are Group A (capable of liquefying) under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code.
The club recounts a number of recent cases in which independent consultant Brookes Bell, acting on behalf of London Club members, has confirmed that ships can be offered cargo which is unsafe because their actual moisture content exceeds their transportable moisture limit (TML). The IMSBC Code requires representative samples of Group A cargoes to be properly analysed so that appropriate information/certification on TML and actual moisture content is available to the master prior to loading. But Brookes Bell has learned that, while there are local laboratories which can measure the moisture content, there is no facility in Sierra Leone with the equipment necessary to establish the TML of a sample.
According to Brookes Bell, “One attempt at confirming compliance with the IMSBC Code involved a surveyor sampling the cargo for the first time during transhipment at anchor and then seeking to establish the moisture content by drying out the samples in an oven in the ship’s galley. The resultant uncertainty over the characteristics of the cargo and whether it was safe to load led to very extensive delays during loading.
“At a simple level, where owners/charterers have felt compelled to verify the condition of apparently wet cargo offered for shipment, there are significant logistical problems in accessing the stockpiles either at the mines or at river terminals. The long and difficult journeys can involve both road and river transport and, because of the lack of on-site accommodation, these journeys may need to be repeated frequently.”
Both Sierra Leone shippers are now aware of their obligations under the IMSBC Code and appear to be trying to avoid offering wet cargo and/or inadequate certification. However, the London Club says it expects some difficulties to persist, particularly as both shippers plan to increase their export volumes. Owners and charterers considering fixing iron ore loadings from Sierra Leone are therefore advised to give early notice to the club, which can help to establish whether proper sampling and testing has been conducted.