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Shipping lines get tough on dangerous goods misdeclaration

dangerous goods misdeclarationGatvol (ˈxʌtˌfɒl) is a commonly used South African term meaning “fed up” or “I have had it up to here”.. This seems to be the mood with many of the shipping lines as they announced hefty fines for misdeclaration of dangerous goods..

Lines including Evergreen, Maersk Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine and OOCL have announced that they will implement fines to the tune of several thousands of dollars for dangerous goods misdeclaration..

About time I would say..!!

In the latest list of lines, Hapag Lloyd announced that it would implement a penalty of USD 15,000.00 per container, effective from September 15, 2019 for misdeclaration of dangerous goods..

The advisory stated that “Failure to properly offer and declare hazardous cargoes prior to shipment is a violation of the Hazardous Material Regulations. Such violations may be subject to monetary fines and/or criminal prosecution under applicable law.

To ensure the safety of our crew, ships and other cargo onboard, Hapag-Lloyd holds the Shipper liable and responsible for all costs and consequences related to violations, fines, damages, incidents, claims and corrective measures resulting from cases of undeclared or misdeclared cargoes.” it added..

For far too long, shipping lines, ship owners, exporters, importers and more importantly the ships crew have been facing loss of lives, loss of cargo, loss of revenue, loss of trade, loss of time all because some unscrupulous or ignorant shippers fail to follow dangerous goods regulations resulting in misdeclaration of dangerous goods..

Dangerous Goods

When we say dangerous goods or hazardous cargo, first thing that comes to mind of many people would be explosives, acids, poisons or nuclear waste etc..

But there are many articles or substances in our homes that should be considered as “dangerous goods” especially when it comes to the question of transporting it..

All materials or items with hazardous properties can be considered to be Dangerous goods or Hazardous Goods.. If these goods are not properly controlled, especially during transportation it can present a potential hazard to the health and safety of all living beings, the environment and material assets..

Dangerous goods comes in many forms such as solids, liquids or gases and can be hot or cold,  pungent or odourless, transparent or coloured and their hazardous effects can be anything from minimal to fatal..

dangerous goods misdeclaration

They may be pure chemicals or mixtures of substances, manufactured products or individual articles on their own..

Some hazardous effects of these goods can include acidic / caustic burning of skin tissue, the emission of flammable and/or toxic fumes, some products can be corrosive to metals and other materials, others can be explosive by nature or when exposed to sources of heat..

Certain goods can be harmful to the environment if not contained properly and others can react dangerously to water..

The transportation of dangerous goods is regulated in order to prevent as far as possible, accidents involving people or property, damage to the environment, to the means of transport employed or to other goods being transported..

Each mode of transport (air, sea, road, rail and inland waterway) has its own regulations..


IMDG Code bookIMDG Code or International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code is accepted as an international guideline for the safe transportation of dangerous goods and hazardous materials by sea..

The IMDG Code is intended to protect crew members and to prevent marine pollution by hazardous materials..

The implementation of the Code is mandatory in conjunction with the obligations of the members of United Nations Government under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78)..

The code contains advice on terminology, packaging, labelling, placarding, markings, stowage, segregation, handling, and emergency response in relation to carrying dangerous goods by sea..


Maritime Disasters

Imagine these highly dangerous goods among tens of thousands of containers on board a ship operated by many crew members but they don’t know what they are carrying..!!!!

Imagine you are the Captain or the crew of the ship carrying highly toxic, poisonous or combustible goods which have been misdeclared or not declared at all – either by choice or by accident..

Actually, you don’t even need to imagine.. You just have to read up on real life incidents linked to the carriage, storage, misdeclaration of dangerous goods and/or non-adherence to dangerous goods regulations such as

  • what happened in Tianjin, China in 2015 where more than 112 people were killed in a hazardous goods explosion; or
  • what happened to the MSC Flaminia in which 3 crew members perished; or
  • what happened to the Maersk Honam, one of Maersk’s ultra-large container ships which caught fire in the Arabian Sea killing 5 crew members; or
  • what happened to the KMTC Hong Kong in Laem Chabang; or
  • what happened to the Yantian Express as recently as January 2019

Lines like Maersk Line announced the implementation of a set of new guidelines “Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage” after a thorough review of current safety practices and policies in the stowage of dangerous cargo, to improve safety across its container vessel fleet.. reported that Hapag-Lloyd has teamed up with IBM to promote and further develop the Cargo Patrol software, which scans bookings for suspicious descriptions, including synonyms or brand names, instead of correct designations, across the industry..

As per Hapag Lloyd, there were more than 11,000 dangerous goods misdeclarations between 2015 and 2017 and in 2014 and 2015, they shut out close to 7,000 shipments from being transported due to not following dangerous goods regulations or improperly declared dangerous goods or other sensitive commodities..

Rolf Habben Jansen, Chief Executive of Hapag Lloyd told, “One of the things that we are trying to push very hard is that if people misdeclare goods, we share this information between all the lines so that all of us can start to check and, if needed, ban those shippers to prevent misdeclared cargo getting on board, which would materially reduce of the risk that something goes wrong when one of the ships is at sea.

Citing the many marine incidents in 2019 relating to suspected carriage of potentially undeclared and/ or misdeclared hazardous cargo, OOCL advised recently that they will strengthen their Dangerous Cargo acceptance and container inspection policy which includes imposing additional verification before loading through selective or random inspections on DG and potential DG cargo..


KMTC HongKong Fire - shipping and freight resource KMTC HongKong Fire - shipping and freight resource KMTC HongKong Fire - shipping and freight resource

The TT Club reported that statistics indicate there is a major container cargo fire at sea roughly every 60 days..!!! As per the club, as the size of container ships increases, so does the potential risk and consequence of a large explosion or fire incident..

The TT Club has been campaigning for greater Container Safety with focus on Dangerous Goods first.. Due to the many incidents that has happened in 2019 alone, the Cargo Integrity campaign initiated by the international transport and logistics insurer, has gained renewed impetus..

As per TT Club, its records indicate that across the intermodal spectrum as a whole, 66% of incidents related to cargo damage can be attributed to poor practice in the overall packing process and that is not just in securing but also in cargo identification, misdeclaration, documentation, and effective data transfer..

The calculated cost of these claims in the Marine Aviation & Transport (MAT) insurance sector is in excess of USD500 million a year..

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club’s Risk Management Director, who is leading the Cargo Integrity charge said, “We are endeavouring to focus all direct and indirect stakeholders on recognising and doing the right thing. One particularly critical aspect of this is the correct declaration and handling of dangerous goods (DG).



To me, this issue once again raises the question of the misdeclaration of cargoes especially hazardous goods and the attitude of trade towards this important issue..

I say, inspect every hazardous container as it seems shippers may not be taking this as seriously as it should be..

If SOLAS VGM can be done on every single container that is loaded, am sure hazardous containers can be inspected..


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