London P&I Club guidance regarding Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers and Dry Chemicals

The London Club published guidance regarding Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers (FIBCs) and Dry Chemicals. The guide presents common hazards, as well as lessons learned for a safe operation onboard.

FIBCs have a body of a flexible woven material (typically polypropylene) and is intended to ship solid material in powder, flake or granular form. It is designed to be handled from the top by permanently attached lifting loops/ slings which can be lifted by cranes, hoists or forklifts. They are frequently used to ship foodstuffs, agricultural product chemicals such as fertilisers, and pharmaceuticals.

As the London Club has noted, FIBCs are manufactured to international standards such as EN ISO 21898 Packaging – Flexible Intermediate bulk containers for non-dangerous goods.

FIBCs can be used to transport hazardous materials and/or dangerous goods if presented in an approved package for your particular products and it complies with the applicable regulatory code such as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

Potential incidents

1 Torn bags and spillages: When handling bagged cargoes, it is common for at least some of the bags to tear and incidental spillages to occur during loading or discharge. In the case of spillages of bagged chemicals onto the exterior packaging of other consignments in the same hold (which may or may not also be chemicals), this may result in delays, refusal by stevedores to handle externally contaminated packages and/ or rejection of such externally contaminated packages, even where there has not been direct contact or chemical reaction between incompatible chemicals.

2 Reactions of mixed chemicals in FIBCs within the same hold: Potentially more serious incidents involve a reaction between some of these bagged chemicals which can occur due to spillages, tears in the bags, etc. In some cases, these reactions have resulted in fires onboard which destroyed large portions of the cargo within the hold. Following firefighting, the entire contents within the hold may not be salvageable, leading to large claims.

Because of the likelihood of spillages, there are risks associated with loading different FIBCs of chemicals. Extra caution should be taken to check for any potential incompatibilities between the cargoes to be loaded, and this may require an evaluation from a chemist. Checks should be undertaken to check the package integrity to minimise the likelihood of a spillage or tearing of the FIBCs. It is also important to ensure that the correct FIBC is used for the chemical.

Lessons learned and advice

– Ensure cargo is loading in accordance with IMO statutory requirement, the vessel’s CSM, CSS Code, IMDG Code, and industry best practice.
– The Shipper should provide in advance of loading sufficient details of the cargo so that proper planning can be undertaken. If not provided, ask for details of the bagged cargoes.
– Liaise closely with the Port Captain at the planning stage.
– Ensure FIBCs are not stowed outside the recommended tier height/tier rating.
– Closely monitor cargo handling during load and discharge. Ensure FIBCs are loaded with care to avoid damage.
– Beware of the potential problems of stowing bagged chemicals with other break bulk and steel cargoes.
– Consider the tank-top strength with loading cargoes, particularly steel coils as they are not homogeneous cargoes.
– Take photographs throughout cargo operations and keep accurate records.
– If there are problems during loading and/or discharge, consider issuing a LOP.
– Contact your P&I Club at an early stage so that expert advice can be sought in relation to the proposed/ actual loading.
– Before any entry into holds, be aware of toxic gas potential. Ensure gas readings are carried out and holds are adequately ventilated.
– Always seek advice regarding chemicals following a spill.

Download the guidance: London Club Flexible Intermediate Bulk Carriers 2022

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