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Misdeclared cargoes accounting for more container fires

Container fires started by cargoes that are not what they are claimed to be are more widespread than statistics show. If one takes near-misses into account, the figure is closer to one fire per week being largely doused by crews

Current statistics show that a serious fire is occurring every 30 days, rather than every 60 days, says TT Club, and the issue needs to be addressed through collaboration

CONTAINER fires are reaching a critical level and must be addressed, a forum on hazardous cargo in London has been told.

Current statistics show that serious fires — categorised as requiring external assistance — are occurring every 30 days, according to TT Club’s risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox. That compares with a previous frequency of 60 days.

The statistics, however, do not take into account near-misses, he told the Lloyd’s List hazardous cargo forum held in London.

At least one fire per week is being doused by containership crews themselves.

“That is not acceptable,” he said, adding that solving this issue requires collaboration by all stakeholders, including the International Maritime Organization. 

The reasons for the serious fires are largely misdeclared cargoes, either intentional or not, combined with a lack of adequate training or awareness regarding compatibility of different cargo types in holds.

Other issues include lack of sufficient fire-fighting equipment. 

Laurent Audaz, head of insurance and legal at Mediterranean Shipping Co, said his company deals with 19,000 claims per year from 21m containers carried, 10% of which are related to cargo inaccuracies. 

Cargoes are usually misdeclared to avoid extra freight charges, or to circumvent rules on carriage of dangerous goods, he said.

Some solutions could be to share information, but anti-trust laws make it difficult for a container line to alert competitors about rogue shippers or shipments, he said.

Other initiatives could be digitalisation or technology such as using infrared scanners at the load port.

Some difficulties faced at port state level is an inadequate number of inspectors, according to Jack Westwood-Booth, the International Maritime Organisation’s senior deputy director of maritime safety and marine technology.

It is up to member states to raise any safety issues with the UN group, he said.

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