Published: December 1, 2015

The Club has had recent experience of several cases where inadequate monitoring of Indonesian coal before loading and during voyages has given rise to safety concerns.

Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of coal.  Due to limitations in some ports, loading often occurs via barges  and it is known that there are a number of operators who are shipping coal (via barges) without following accepted industry good practise. Examples include miss-declaring the cargo as not being prone to self-heating, or providing no details of the self-heating or methane-emitting characteristics of the cargo.

It is for this reason that the effective and accurate monitoring of the cargo during loading and the voyage has come into focus as a vital part of ensuring safety for the ship and crew.  This article examines in greater detail recommended cargo monitoring procedures as well as actions to take in the event of a fire.

The IMSBC Code states that before and during loading the temperature of the cargo on the barge must be measured.  Minton Treharne & Davies (MTD) have advised the Club’s Members on several occasions and recommend that a ‘thermocouple probe’ is used for this purpose. They suggest that a pit of 0.3-0.5 metres is dug into the cargo while it is on the barge and a number of measurements are taken after inserting the probe into the pit. They advise that the temperature range is recorded in at least 21 places. During loading, they suggest re-measuring the cargo again when 33% has been discharged from the barge and then again when 66% of the cargo is discharged.   Any cargo above 55 degrees centigrade shows the cargo is undergoing a self-heating reaction and should be rejected.

Alternative methods such as using a ‘temperature gun’ or ‘thermo-gun’ are only effective when the manufacturers’ requirements are followed.  For example, when using a temperature gun, measurements should be taken at a maximum distance of 0.5 metres from the cargo surface.  A pit of 0.3-0.5 metres should be dug before holding the gun in the pit and recording a number of readings per pit.

MTD also remind Members that the IMSBC Code states that gas measurements are to be undertaken during the voyage.

If cargo is found to be on fire, or above 55 degrees centigrade in the barges during loading, MTD advise that the following steps should be taken:

  • Loading from the relevant barge is to cease immediately.
  • All cargo that has been loaded from this barge will need to be discharged from the holds back into the barge as soon as possible, making sure all the relevant coal is discharged. This can be done using the grab.
  • Consider spraying localised areas of the hot coal in the holds with fresh water. Water is to be jetted onto the hot areas in intermittent bursts, allowing the steam to dissipate between each burst.
  • Fresh water is preferred however if safety is at risk then the crew should use whatever water is available. If time or circumstances permit, charterers/shippers should assist by arranging fresh water for fire fighting where possible, and obtaining an LOI from them is recommended if seawater is to be used.
  • Cargo holds not being worked are to be closed and gas monitoring commenced for oxygen, carbon dioxide and lower explosive limit percentage (LEL) in them.
  • A local P&I surveyor can assist in carrying out further temperature surveys as described above.
  • Crew to prepare fire hoses on deck.
  • All combustible materials on deck to be removed.
  • Fire and emergency pumps to be tested and charged.
  • Boundary cooling to of hatch cover seals that are exposed to heat.
  • Holds are to be treated as confined spaces, with all the associated precautions.
  • Crew to be aware of the toxic and asphyxiating nature of the atmosphere in the cargo holds.

On arrival at the discharge port, Members are strongly recommended to only open holds for discharging that are imminently to be worked on. Opening hatch covers with cargo that will not be unloaded for some time exposes the cargo to oxygen that may fuel self-heating reactions and cause further problems.


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