479 million tonnes of rice were produced in the 2013/14 season, with 38 million tonnes transported across borders, exported mainly by Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan. As global demand for staple foods has risen and the shipping industry has faced increasing pressure on freight rates, a large percentage of rice shipments are transported in bagged form aboard traditional bulk carriers, with smaller parcels carried more and more often as containerised cargo.
The frequency and costs of claims associated with damage to bagged rice is significant. Aside from issues of pilferage at the loading or discharge port, the primary hazards to bagged rice are water damage, infestation, mishandling of cargo bags during loading, improper stowage in cargo holds and deficiencies in the ship’s condition affecting the cargo holds. Bagged rice needs to be kept dry and well ventilated and it is important to inspect the ship’s holds, hatch covers and ventilation system for potential defects as these will be critical to the safe carriage of the cargo, even on short voyages.
Damage avoidance can be maximised through preparation and correct procedures. Cargo holds should be properly cleaned and prepared: all tanktops/decks and bulkheads should be cleaned, swept, washed, rinsed with fresh water, well ventilated and dried.
Other precautions include:
Maintaining the cargo hatch covers in good operable condition and establishing an adequate inspection/maintenance programme, so that due diligence may be proven in the event of any cargo claim.
Not stowing rice near any strong smelling cargo such as bagged cocoa, bulk copra or similar.
Shipowners should do their best to encourage charterers to hire qualified and experienced stevedores to arrange and lay appropriate dunnage to reduce the possibility of stowage related problems.
Some of the damages specified earlier, can occur to bagged rice prior to arrival onboard ship and it is important to recognise and document any pre-shipment irregularities prior to accepting it onboard. In particular, cargo can be exposed to wetness damage during any possible barge leg of a voyage, due to water ingress via the barge hull. The ship’s master and chief officer should ensure that the cargo is tested for moisture content as it arrives onboard. If the cargo moisture is found to be in excess, there is a significantly higher risk of damage resulting from condensation.
Shipowners should have procedures for tasks to be performed during cargo operations in inclement weather, for monitoring of weather conditions that allows sufficient time to fully close the cargo hatch covers, to prevent damage to cargo.
In order to protect the ship from false claims, it might be useful to utilise qualified third party surveyors to properly corroborate and record the condition of the ship, cargo and conduct of the operations. In the event of damage or incidents, the crew should notify the Master or officer of the watch of all activities of concern, log the details in the ship’s logbook and collect all relevant evidence as practicable to be kept as a report.