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Dangerous cargo handling safe procedure for container ships

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code lists over 3000 hazardous substances. Goods can be categorized as dangerous for any of the following reasons: The environmental aspect is the most frequently quoted when cargoes are classified as hazardous or noxious.

typical arrangement of tank container
Tank container with DG cargo


DG handling Safety Precautions

It is both illegal and dangerous to take short cuts with safety regulations. Proper care in the initial handling of Dangerous Goods can prevent accidents arising at a later stage.

Naked lights and smoking should be prohibited in or near a Dangerous Goods handling area at all times.

If possible, Dangerous Goods should be handled and stowed during daylight hours; if not, adequate lighting must be provided during the operation. It should be noted that the colours of some labels appear to change in artificial light. Ambient temperatures in relation to the flash point should be taken into account, particularly in hot weather/tropical climates.

If spillage occurs it should be carefully dealt with having regard to the dangerous nature of the substances, i.e. it should not be allowed to spread via footwear, wind, etc., and spillage should not be replaced in the appropriate package without the knowledge and advice of the manufacturer. It is essential that the IMDG Code is consulted for details of a particular commodity before taking action to contain a spillage or fire to ensure that the action taken does not endanger personnel or worsen the situation.

The ship must be equipped with appropriate safety equipment and fire fighting facilities required by the class of the Dangerous Goods to be carried.

Procedures and guidelines for stowage and segregation of dangerous cargo, shall be adhered to additionally:

1) Every dangerous cargo shipment shall be made in line with IMO policy and be accompanied by required documentation. DG cargo with restricted/prohibited UN numbers shall not be accepted for shipment unless under special circumstance express permission is obtained from the company.

2) All DG containers must be checked for proper label/placard as required by the IMDG code. A stock of spare labels/placards must be kept on board.

3) DG containers must be checked for condition prior loading and leaking or damaged containers posing a hazard, shall be rejected.

containerized  dangerous goods need special care while underway

4) It must be ensured that all DG containers are loaded in the planned stow position. Any discrepancies shall be brought to the notice of the Terminal planner / Central planner and / or local agent as required.
The final condition may be accepted only if meeting all stowage and segregation requirements; else it must be corrected by discharging / shifting concerned container(s).

5) The requisite day/night signals for vessels carrying / loading / discharging dangerous cargo shall be displayed.

6) When handling/carrying dangerous cargo on board smoking shall strictly not be allowed other than in designated smoking areas. Signs/placards shall be appropriately displayed at gangway and on deck.

7) Location and properties of dangerous cargo shall be considered when carrying out any special work on board such as hot work etc. When Dangerous Goods are handled, fire may be the principal hazard, but not necessarily the only one, in that such goods are not only a potential source of ignition but can also greatly intensify or complicate a fire and cause difficulties in fire fighting.

Obtain container packing certificate: Certificate indicating correct loading of a dangerous goods container and the observance of the regulations set out in the IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code). The container packing certificate is issued by the person responsible for packing the container.

8) Other precautions shall be taken when handling dangerous cargo shipments as warranted by good seamanship, SOLAS, MARPOL, IMDG code, local and national regulations.

9) Further guidance for handling D.G cargo is contained in IMDG Code vol 1, 2 & supplement.


DG stowage : Particular caution is to be exercised when stowing dangerous cargo on board the vessel. Any dangerous cargo presented for loading must be accompanied by a proper manifest and declaration as required by international regulations . Further this DG cargo must be acceptable for carriage as per IMDG code guidance. Reference here is made to the list of UN numbers restricted/prohibited for carriage on board particular vessels.

After confirming acceptability of the DG cargo, the plan must be checked for proper stowage and segregation. Although terminal and central planners should provide proper stow of DG cargo, the final responsibility always lies with the Master.

Reference shall be made to vessels Document of Compliance with special requirements for ships carrying dangerous goods for confirming that proposed DG classes are acceptable for stowage in planned locations on board.

container ship cargo stowage

Specific stowage requirements for DG cargo
(e.g. Clear of living quarters OR if under deck, in a mechanically ventilated space etc) may be verified from individual entries of dangerous goods list in the IMDG code.

DG segregation shall be verified for compliance with requirements of the IMDG code. Caution must be exercised when using vessels stowage planning software for this purpose as it may or may not have comprehensive means of checking for bad stowage & segregation against the latest international requirements. It is advisable to manually check for compliance.

Segregation requirements of the IMDG code and any other local/national regulations must be strictly adhered to.
One must be aware that even DG cargoes belonging to the same class may have segregation requirements amongst them.

A good example is that of alkalis requiring to be separated form acids where as both acids and alkalis may belong to IMO Class 8. Such segregation requirement will not be found in the segregation tables of the IMDG code and only individual entries of the dangerous goods list in the code indicate the requirement.





The Master is responsible for ensuring that the carriage of dangerous cargoes is in accordance with the IMDG Code as amended, the vesselís DOC (for the carriage of DG) and the provisions of the C/P, and for reporting without delay to the Company and the nearest Coastal States, any incidents involving dangerous goods.

The Chief Officer is responsible for ensuring that cargo operations with respect to any dangerous cargoes are performed in accordance with the IMDG Code as amended and the Masterís instructions. Furthermore, the Chief Officer is responsible for personally inspecting at least once daily all the container units with dangerous cargo and reporting any abnormality / leakage, etc. to the Master. A relevant entry shall be made in the shipís Log Book.

IMDG Code: The carriage of all dangerous goods must be in accordance with the provisions of the IMDG Code and amendments. The code also provides the necessary procedures to be followed in case of an accident resulting in a spillage. The Master must ensure that the required medicines as per MFAG are on board. The Master must ensure that the latest version (containing all amendments) of the IMDG Code is available on board, and that the OOWs are familiar with the layout of this publication.

Handling of Dangerous Cargo Containers: Upon Stevedoresí presentation of the pre-stowage plan , the Chief Officer in collaboration with the Cargo Planner must review the Dangerous Cargo List. He must ensure that all Dangerous Cargo is properly segregated and located in accordance with the Document of Compliance for the carriage of Dangerous Goods, and that dangerous cargo manifests are approved and signed by the shipís Master. As soon as the dangerous cargo containers are loaded, as per the Chief Officerís instructions, the Officer of the Watch must ensure that: Care must be taken that any hazardous containers being loaded do not broach the segregation limits of hazardous containers already on board.

Hazardous Cargo Manifests: Copies of all hazardous cable manifests and hazardous cargo plans are to be kept up-to-date and readily available on the bridge during the sea passage, and in the shipís office during port stay.

Documentation should be strictly presented in accordance with the IMDG Code and presented to the vessel before any DG container is loaded on board. If the documentation is not provided, the containers shall not be loaded on board.

Awareness of Hazardous Cargo to be Loaded: All relevant personnel must be kept well aware of all hazardous containers/cargoes to be loaded, the pre-stowage plan, segregation and any special requirements.

Special Requirements: All special requirements such as fire hoses being rigged, fire extinguishers in attendance, no smoking boards, fire wires being in place at bow and stern, and requirements from flag etc must be fully observed.

IMO Rules/Regulations: All IMO Rules and Regulations for the carriage of Dangerous Goods must be strictly complied with.

Hazardous Cargo / Deck Repairs: Special attention must be paid to the position of hazardous cargoes when planning or undertaking deck repairs.

Safety / Protective Equipment: The Master must be satisfied that adequate safety equipment and protective clothing is on board for use in the event of leakage, spillage or other mishap of any hazardous commodity and that key personnel are familiar with its use.

Hazardous Container Labels: The OOWOfficer of the Watch must check the labels of all hazardous containers against the hazardous cargo manifest and ensure the correct labels are displayed. Any deficiencies in the labels must be corrected immediately. The Master should request from the Charterers, a sufficient number of labels that may be applied by crew in case containers with DG are delivered with insufficient labels or are lost while at sea.



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