Surveyors beware of how to avoid claims for ‘cooking’ soya beans

The latest issue of North P&I Club’s loss prevention newsletter has advised operators to be extra vigilant during loading and transport of soya beans to ensure they do not get blamed for cargoes that start “cooking” at sea.

North’s loss prevention director Tony Baker says, “We have experienced a number of high value claims in China associated with damage to soya beans exported from South America. These claims tend to recur on an annual basis associated with the harvest cycle of soya beans. Similar claims can also occur with other grain cargoes.”

The problem
Grain cargoes in general and soya beans in particular, have a risk of going mouldy on board the ship during the voyage. Most cargoes are loaded in apparent good order and condition but there is an inherent vice – the soya beans have a tendency to deteriorate from self-heating unless cargo loading temperatures are low and average moisture content is low. There are known limits for temperature and moisture content. Cargoes below these limits are described as stable – they can be stored for a long time without self-heating. Cargoes above these limits are unstable – they are at risk of damage from self-heating.

The ‘Damage’ Process
Soya beans are stable below 11.5% moisture and 25°C. Soya bean cargo damage claims are frequent because most cargoes are shipped above 11.5% and are loaded at temperatures of 30°C or higher. Recent Brazilian cargoes have a reported average moisture content of 12.6% and are loaded in ambient temperatures over 30°C – this means the risk of self-heating is high. The table below shows how the risk of selfheating increases with average moisture content and cargo temperature. Most cargoes out-turn in apparent good order and condition and are accepted without claim. But many cargoes will self-heat before arrival at the discharge port and there will be cargo damage. If the voyage is delayed this risk increases.

Certificate of Quality
Under the contract of sale, the sellers will usually have taken representative cargo samples on loading. These will be tested for average moisture content and the results are recorded in the load-port certificate of quality. Prior to loading, the Master should request a copy of this certificate or get the shippers to state in writing the average moisture content of the cargo.

Loss Prevention at the Load Port
At the load port it might be prudent to take cargo samples under survey with the charterer/shipper/seller’s/receiver’s representatives. Taking samples during loading might be difficult. Cargo samples from the surface of the cargo on completion of loading might not be representative, but: The average moisture content of the sample can be useful to compare with the certified average. Further tests can be carried out on the samples in the event of a claim. The samples may show that the cargo has not discoloured significantly from loading to discharging. North’s loss prevention briefing recommends having a local surveyor to obtain samples on loading and to keep a continuous (photographic) record of the loading.

Loss Prevention on the Voyage
Ventilation records must always be kept to avoid suggestions that ventilation is responsible for cargo damage. For all agricultural cargoes, the three degree rule should be used. It should be noted that ventilation can take place at any time – night or day – when the outside temperature is at least three degrees below the cargo temperature on loading.

Always be careful if venting at night to ensure that weather conditions will not lead to water ingress. It is important to note that: Self-heating is completely unaffected by ventilation Ventilation can, at best, minimise the extent of ship’s sweat/condensation in the top few centimetres of cargo. It will not cause nor prevent self-heating below the surface layer.

Problem at the Discharge Port
If caking, discoloration, and/or visible mould are found at the discharge port China Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ) will take samples for testing. The results are not given to the ship operator. Chinese lawyers usually seek to settle by negotiation. Requests for large security amounts against threats to arrest and detain the ship are common. Without evidence from the load port and on the voyage the ship’s negotiation position is weak – good evidence will strengthen this position.

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