Published: 1 June 2018

With shipments of iron ore and bauxite on the increase, this article is intended to provide guidance on practical steps which should be taken when Members receive orders for loading IMSBC “Group A” cargoes (cargoes which may liquefy if shipped with a moisture content (“MC”) in excess of the transportable moisture limit (“TML”)).

The MC is the portion of a representative sample consisting of water or other liquid expressed as a percentage of the total wet mass of that sample. The TML is taken as 90% of the MC that is necessary for liquefaction to be possible based on a laboratory test. The shift in the centre of gravity from the cargo liquefying alternatively cargo sliding in the hold can cause a vessel to capsize.

The problem is that cargoes such as nickel ore, iron ore, concentrates and bauxite (which can be prone to liquefaction if the moisture content is sufficiently high), are usually mined and stored in the open in countries where, generally, the infrastructure is under-developed and frequent periods of high rainfall can be experienced.

The original voyage orders may not in fact provide a full description of the cargo. While the intended cargo should be named by using the Bulk Cargo Shipping Name (BCSN) as contained in the IMSBC Code, sometimes the shippers do not correctly name or identify the cargo to be loaded. For instance, a cargo described simply as “Iron Ore” may turn out to be a concentrate. Alternatively, the Shipper’s Declaration / Cargo Information Sheet may state the cargo to be Group “C” whereas the cargo should properly have been classified as Group “A”.


1.When fixing, Members should seek to include the BIMCO charterparty clause for solid bulk cargoes which may liquefy ⃰.

2. Obtaining the Shipper’s Declaration / Cargo Information Sheet is the starting-point. This should contain a Certificate of the TML and a Certificate or Declaration of actual moisture content. The Master should check the Certificate of TML to see:

  1. Who issued it? The Certificate must have been issued by a recognised Competent Authority at the port of loading. The “Competent Authority” is defined in the IMSBC Code as, “any national regulatory body or authority designated or otherwise recognized as such for any purpose in connection with the Code.” It is for the Competent Authority to “assess the acceptability of the cargo for safe shipment” and consider its classification (Group “A”, “B” or “C” cargo). One inherent problem is that globally, the competent authorities are not consistent. It is understood the degree of quality of laboratories testing TML can vary significantly as to accuracy.
  2.  When it was issued? The interval between sampling/testing and loading should never be more than 7 days.
  3.  Whether the sample is referenced to the cargo/stockpile being loaded. It is the sole responsibility of the shipper to ensure that the tested sample has the same characteristics and properties of the cargo that was sampled and tested for the TML. If there is no link, the Master should be on his guard.


3. The IMSBC Code should be checked for requirements for the particular cargo.

4. The Master should carry out a visual inspection of the cargo prior to and during loading and obtain photographic evidence where possible. This should include the cargo stockpiled ashore, if possible.

5. If there is at any time an indication of high moisture content, the Master should stop loading and take advice.

6. Weather conditions (e.g. monsoon season or heavy rain) should be monitored and logged.

7. “Can tests” should be performed (as described in section 8 of the Code) and results photographed. Such tests cannot replace laboratory tests and are not representative of the cargo being loaded. Some experts consider such tests to be highly inaccurate.

8. Vessel trim and bilges should be monitored.

9. Any recommendations given for cargo care or handling during the voyage should be followed.

Caution: The Master should ensure that full cargo information has been provided and checked before loading operations commence. Where there is unreasonable delay in this information being provided or the Master is being pressured to commence loading before receiving the cargo information or shippers refuse to co-operate in joint taking and testing of cargo samples, he should be on extra alert as there may be some questionable concerns as to the safety or accuracy of the cargo information.

The Master has an overriding obligation not to load cargo which may adversely affect the safety of the vessel (SOLAS Chapter XI-2 Regulation 8).

If the Master has reasonable concerns about the cargo being loaded (for instance, by reason of its appearance, condition or concerns over potential to liquefy), it is unlikely any London Court or Tribunal would criticise a decision to stop loading to take advice and possibly carry out further testing. The Master would then need to be guided by expert advice in taking a decision whether it was then safe to continue loading.


a)  The Charterers shall ensure that all solid bulk cargoes to be carried under this Charter Party are presented for carriage and loaded always in compliance with applicable international regulations, including the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code 2009 (as may be amended from time to time and including any recommendations approved and agreed by the IMO).

b)  If the cargo is a solid bulk cargo that may liquefy, the Charterers shall prior to the commencement of loading provide the ship’s Master, or his representative, with all information and documentation in accordance with the IMSBC Code, including but not limited to a certificate of the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML), and a certificate or declaration of the moisture content, both signed by the shipper.

c)  The Owners shall have the right to take samples of cargo prior to loading and, at Charterers’ request, samples to be taken jointly, testing of such cargo samples shall be conducted jointly between Charterers and Owners by an independent laboratory that is to be nominated by Owners. Sampling and testing shall be at the Charterers’ risk, cost, expense and time. The Master or Owners’ representative shall at all times be permitted unrestricted and unimpeded access to cargo for sampling and testing purposes.

If the Master, in his sole discretion using reasonable judgement, considers there is a risk arising out of or in connection with the cargo (including but not limited to the risk of liquefaction) which could jeopardise the safety of the crew, the Vessel or the cargo on the voyage, he shall have the right to refuse to accept the cargo or, if already loaded, refuse to sail from the loading port or place. The Master shall have the right to require the Charterers to make safe the cargo prior to loading or, if already loaded, to offload the cargo and replace it with a cargo acceptable to the Master, all at the Charterers’ risk, cost, expense and time. The exercise by the Master of the aforesaid rights shall not be a breach of this Charter Party.

d)  Notwithstanding anything else contained in this Charter Party, all loss, damage, delay, expenses, costs and liabilities whatsoever arising out of or related to complying with, or resulting from failure to comply with, such regulations or with Charterers’ obligations hereunder shall be for the Charterers’ account. The Charterers shall indemnify the Owners against any and all claims whatsoever against the Owners arising out of the Owners complying with the Charterers’ instructions to load the agreed cargo.

e)  This Clause shall be without prejudice to the Charterers’ obligations under this Charter Party to provide a safe cargo. In relation to loading, anything done or not done by the Master or the Owners in compliance with this Clause shall not amount to a waiver of any rights of the Owners.