News 10 Oct, 2007

India: Iron Ore Fines - Risk of Liquefaction

In the past few weeks three vessels have experienced serious cargo liquefaction problems after loading iron ore fines in Mangalore and Haldia. The iron ore fines were apparently loaded from open stockpiles which had been exposed to heavy rain. Two of the ships developed a severe list on passage and were subsequently beached.

The Code of Safe Practice of Solid Bulk Cargoes (BC Code) states that "cargoes which contain a certain proportion of small particles and a certain amount of moisture may liquefy". Various types of iron ore may fall into this category including iron ore fines, sinter feed and pellet feed.

The BC Code goes on to say that "a cargo shift caused by liquefaction may occur when the moisture content exceeds the transportable moisture limit (TML)". Moreover, "the shipper should provide the master or his representative with appropriate information on the cargo sufficiently in advance of loading" including in the case of cargoes which may liquefy "a certificate on the moisture content of the cargo and its transportable moisture limit".

Reports suggest that the certificates provided for the iron ore fines in question specified the moisture content of the cargo but not the TML. Since a cargo which may liquefy may only be carried if the moisture content is less than the TML, moisture content alone cannot be used to determine whether or not such a cargo is safe to load.

Although the requirements of the BC Code apply to all cargoes which may liquefy including mineral concentrates and other finely crushed ores, vessels calling at ports in India to load iron ore fines or similar commodities should exercise particular caution. If the shipper fails to provide the necessary certification before loading or if the vessel raises any concerns about the moisture content of the cargo following a visual inspection or a "can" test, the Club should be contacted for advice without delay.