Onboard fires caused by misdeclared cargo is a growing issue that needs to be addressed this year, according to digital freight forwarder iContainers.
Klaus Lysdal, vice president of operations at iContainers, said that this is “an imperative problem” that needs to be tackled urgently, especially given the growing vessel sizes whose larger capacities increase the risks of having misdeclared cargo onboard.
The Barcelona-based forwarder believes that part of the problem stems from misinformed shippers and inept practices.
“At this point, forwarders are still taking shippers’ word for what’s loaded in the container. But from a forwarder’s perspective, that tends to increase the risk that clients who are not well-versed in hazardous cargo and looking to ship it may come to forwarders,” Lysdal explained.
“This puts the forwarder at risk, especially if the shippers’ paperwork is not in order.”
He warned that failure to tackle the problem before it gets any worse could ultimately lead to regulations that could cause an increase in shipping costs.
Over the past few months, the maritime industry has witnessed the increasing occurrence of misdeclared cargoes and containership fires, the latest involving a giant containership operated by China Cosco Shipping. On January 4, 2020, Cosco Pacific caught fire while en route from Port Klang, Malaysia, to Nhava Sheva Port, India. The investigation showed that the cause of the fire in one of the ship’s cargo holds was the spontaneous combustion of a lithium battery cargo, which was not properly declared.
Such serious incidents have prompted shipping companies to implement penalties for misdeclared hazardous cargoes. One of these carriers is German shipping major Hapag-Lloyd which introduced a penalty of USD 15,000 per container for undeclared or misdeclared cargo.
“Some of the carriers’ initial steps to increase fines may help. But if this persists, it could result in mandatory manual inspections or similar moves to protect against these types of issues. Something like that would obviously lead to additional costs involved with shipping,” iContainers’ vice president of operations noted.
“But something has to happen as we cannot keep having fires happening onboard vessels,” he pointed out.