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Loss Prevention: Mitigating Fumigated Cargo Risks

Updated: May 10

How a Routine RightShip Prep Survey Averted Disaster



Grain Cargo Loading Operations on Bulk Carrier

This Loss Prevention update aims to raise awareness to the risks posed by fumigated cargo.


The global distribution of grain, a cornerstone of food trade, is marred by the lurking threat of pest infestations — among them, weevils, beetles, and mites. These insidious invaders can rapidly multiply within Cargo Holds, compromising grain quality and rendering it unfit for human consumption. To counter such calamitous losses, charterers frequently resort to fumigation.


Weevils and mites on grain cargo
Weevils and mites on grain cargo

However, an alarming knowledge gap persists among ship crews, owners, and managers concerning the perilous aspects of fumigation. The primary component of fumigant agents, phosphine gas, poses immediate health risks, including respiratory distress, vomiting, and even fatality. Numerous instances attest to crew health having been compromised due to inadvertent exposure to phosphine gas. Although commonplace in maritime circles, the fumigation of grain cargoes exposes the absence of proper training in handling such cargo and establishing essential safety protocols.


Let us delve into the chronicle of our own encounter: a case where vigilance and expertise precluded an imminent catastrophe.


The Case

Instructed recently by a ship owner, Virtue Marine undertook a RightShip Preparatory Survey, on a handy-sized Bulk Carrier (45,000 dwt). Freshly discharged of scrap metal cargo, the vessel’s next assignment would be grain cargo loading at her forthcoming port of call. Our inspection onboard, conducted closely with the Chief Officer, revealed disconcerting signs. Evident in the surroundings of Cargo Hold 5 access hatch were telltale signs of excessive rust, dents, and blisters.


Entrance to C.H #5 - shares a common boundary with living quarters
Entrance to C.H 5 - shares a common boundary with living quarters


We had also noticed the existence of cabin crews on Acc’tion’s Main Deck, adjacent to where the holes & blisters had been found. The cabins were situated on main deck level & shared a common boundary (steel plate) with C.H 5.


GA - Schematic of the vessel
GA - Schematic of the vessel

Main Deck View
Main Deck View

With the inherent peril of fumigated cargo seeping into crew quarters, our focus shifted to assessing the structural integrity of the bulkhead.


What transpired next was astonishing. Using a chipping hammer, we exposed a corroded and remarkably frail steel plate. Perforations and apertures riddled the steel sheet, gravely compromising its air-tight properties. The fumigant (that would be applied the next days) would easily seep into the crew cabins, potentially leading to fatal consequences.


Holes, Blisters and Rust evident on the steel plates
Holes, Blisters and Rust evident on the steel plates

Actions Taken

We promptly informed the Chief Officer, Master, and Ship owners about the impending threat and the potential danger it presented to the vessel's crew.


Without any delay, we recommended that immediate and permanent repairs be carried out on the bulkhead steel plate to reinstate its air-tight integrity.


In addition, we recognized the importance of assessing the crew's training in handling & managing fumigated cargo, their awareness of its risks & the availability of essential safety equipment, including phosphine gas detectors, respiratory masks and else, as part of loss prevention measures.


Lessons Learnt

1. Check if living quarters (accommodation) share common boundaries with the ship’s cargo holds. If so, make sure the steel structure (common boundary) is maintained at an air-tight condition.


2. This extends to ventilators and/or sounding pipes that pass through the Accommodation.


3. Provide adequate training for your crew, educate them on the dangers that come with phosphine gas. The IMO has published MSC.1/Circ.1264 (Recommendation on Safe Use of Pesticides). Use this as your pillar to EDUCATE your crew.


4. Provide your ship(s) with toxic gas detectors. Implement in your SMS a pattern for taking frequent ambient air measurements in the living quarters (when carrying fumigated cargoes).


5. Provide breathing masks, demonstrate the correct use of them.


6. Warning signs should be posted around the ship, as per below sample:

Warning Poster sample - to be posted around the ship
Warning Poster sample - to be posted around the ship

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