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Shipper and Container Operator liable for explosion on MSC Flaminia

On the 14th of July 2012 a container ship MSC FLAMINIA operated by MSC was en route from Charleston in the USA to Antwerp in Belgium..

MSC Flaminia

A cloud of smoke began emerging from Hold 4 which was noticed by the crew who promptly commenced fire fighting measures by releasing CO2 (Carbon Di-Oxide) to suppress it..

While the crew were working on extinguishing the blaze, an explosion occurred..

3 crew members perished as a result of this incident and several others were injured..

The disaster that occurred on the MSC Flaminia is just one of several containership disasters that have happened in recent history, including containers lost at sea and disasters relating to hazardous goods..

As part of the global trade, more than 130 million containers packed with various types of cargoes are shipped around the world on an annual basis.. Hazardous goods form an integral and important part of this global trade..

Day to day items such as perfumes, pool cleaners, nail polish, paint and even table tennis balls fall under the category of hazardous goods and these cargoes need to be handled properly and diligently..

On this very blog there have been several articles and references on the topic of hazardous cargoes, the process of hazardous cargo acceptance and shipment, the documentation involved in the shipment of hazardous cargoessafety measures to be taken for hazardous cargoes, and most importantly, the consequences of non-declaration of hazardous cargoes..

I cannot emphasise this topic enough because it is just so important..

So what happened on the MSC Flaminia..??


Anyway, back to the MSC Flaminia, as per reports, the ship was carrying 2,876 containers of which 149 were hazardous cargoes..

One of these hazardous cargoes was a product called DiVinylBenzene (DVB) which is a monomer additive that is used in making plastic resins..

There were 3 ISO Tank containers carrying DiVinylBenzene 80% (DVB80) stored in Cargo Hold 4 of the MSC Flaminia..

One of the characteristics of this particular product is that it can self-polymerize and generate large amounts of heat if exposed to temperatures over 85 degrees F for a prolonged period..

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York, found that the explosion was the result of runaway auto-polymerization of this cargo stored in these 3 ISO Tank Containers..

As per the report, these containers loaded with DVB80 were delivered to the New Orleans Terminal (NOT) for shipment in June 2012.. June/July are hot summer months in New Orleans and these containers were baking in the hot sun for 10 days prior to being loaded on the MSC Flaminia on 1st July 2012..

These containers were stowed under deck in Hold 4 of the ship.. The under deck of ships can reach quite high ambient temperatures.. In addition, these containers were stored adjacent to a heated cargo of DiPhenylamine (DPA) and these containers were stowed near to the ship’s heated bunker fuel tanks..

The continued exposure to a higher-than-normal temperature before and during the voyage were key factors in the auto-polymerization of DVB80 which caused the explosion..

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So why the liability on Deltech and Stolt..??


The shipper of this cargo was Louisiana-based Deltech, which hired Stolt-Nielsen’s Stolt Tank Containers to carry them to Europe..

The court assigned Deltech the greatest responsibility (55% share of the liability) for the accident because the manfacturer of this cargo was aware of the substance’s tendency to polymerise which was identified as the cause of the blast..

In the ruling, Presiding judge Katherine B. Forrest noted

Contrary to their own safety protocols developed after prior polymerization incidents that determined that shipping DVB out of New Orleans should be avoided in warmer months, Deltech booked the shipment of DVB80 out of New Orleans for late June.

This fateful decision was the result of — at the very least — a combination of a considered decision at the highest levels of Deltech and managerial errors that followed

Stolt-Nielsen’s Stolt Tank Containers was assigned the remaining 45% share for its role in arranging the shipment..

In the ruling, Presiding judge Katherine B. Forrest noted

Stolt possessed extensive information regarding the heat sensitive nature of the DVB yet it:

(1) failed to pass information to the ocean carrier, MSC, in an effective manner regarding the dangers of heat exposure . . . and

(2) was responsible for arranging loading the DVB into ISO containers earlier than it should have, and arranging for those to be transported to [New Orleans Terminal] and deposited in the open air at the terminal

The court ruled that MSC was not liable for the loss on the grounds that

although MSC also possessed substantial information regarding the heat sensitive nature of DVB before the MSC Flaminia voyage, it lacked sufficient information that the tanks not only contained a heat sensitive product, but —very importantly— had already been exposed to conditions that transformed them into ticking time bombs..

The court ruled that MSC’s actions were consistent with industry practice, its prior practices, and the reasonable expectations of the parties..

The report into this disaster conducted by Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation cited past events with DVB wherein polymerisation had occurred (while the container was on the road) after a transport time of 37 days..

The report however indicated that in the past known cases of polymerisation with DVB, neither an explosion or open flames occurred..

This incident and ruling brings to light a very important factor “sharing of information is critical” especially when it comes to special cargo like hazardous cargo..

This also emphasises the importance of the MSDS document and the information contained in the MSDS document which is critical..

One of the leading insurance and risk management bodies in the industry – the TT Club had noted that

Anecdotal evidence suggests that abuse of Safety Data Sheets (SDS or formerly Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)) in relation to cargo bookings is a regular occurrence.

In the case of DVB’s MSDS, it clearly reads :

7.2. Conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities
Storage conditions: Store in cool, well ventilated area. Keep away from direct sunlight.

10.4. Conditions to avoid
Conditions to avoid: Direct sunlight. Heat.

Precautionary statements: P410+403: Protect from sunlight. Store in a well-ventilated place.

A point which as per the court, the shipper and the container operator failed to consider and hence became liable for the incident..


The issue of refuge..


As part of this incident, MSC Flaminia also faced another major problem.. Where to seek refuge..!!!!

MSC Flaminia, is a German flagged ship, Germany is part of EU, so naturally one would expect a ship to just float into any port of refuge..

But even though the incident happened on the 14th of July 2012, ostensibly due to the dangers that maybe faced, the vessel was not permitted to enter the waters of any coastal state in EU until the 17th of August when finally Germany agreed to grant the ship a place of refuge..

Since the vessel was in a condition to be towed, it was towed into Jade-Weser-Port in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, port identified as a suitable place of refuge as it had a suitable basin and quay wall as well as enough empty wharf space to off load cargo if required..

This issue prompted the European Commission to establish an expert group in 2013 under the chairmanship of the Commission, and comprising all EU Member States, to develop EU Operational Guidelines to complement national plans and apply to situations where it is likely that more than one State may become involved, or where the incident falls outside the jurisdiction of any single Member State..

On the 27th of Jan 2016, the European Commission presented the new EU operational guidelines for ships in need of assistance..


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  1. Liner depend solely on documentation presented by shipper, hence STC …. the cargo…. is based entirely on the declaration made by the shipper documentation. Liner cannot go beyond that to inspect each and every cargo by breaking the seal and physically inspecting the cargo. If shipper had provided MSDS correctly to the Liner, the matter would have been dealt with differently.

  2. i honestly think the shipping line should also do due diligence by confirming any information received from their customers. they can crosscheck content of containers before loading.

  3. Shipping lines are not issued with MSDS upon the declaration of dangerous goods? Isn’t their responsibility to examine the MSDS and follow storage guidelines? I think storing below deck and close to the bunker tanks was evidence that this document was not examined in anyway

  4. Yes sir, that’s how system works. Shipper is liable not only towards the carrier but also towards cargo owners. Like SOLAS is there any possible way to prevent this kind of situations.

  5. It seems like huge amount of DG cargo can contribute to devestating outcome. But isn’t the liner has the responsibility to know whats actually on board on their vessel, regardless what the shipper or agent says?


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