Indian Iron Ore Fines

22 November 2007

In recent months several ships have suffered serious stability problems as a result of liquefaction of iron ore fines loaded wet at various Indian ports, including Haldia, Visakhapatnam and Mangalore.  At least three of the affected bulkers developed a dangerous list on passage; two of the ships were beached as a result.
India exports of iron ore have risen from 86m metric tonnes in 2002 to 165m metric tonnes in 2006 and some reports suggest that up to 80% of Indian exports are in the form of iron ore fines.  Such fines, as the name suggests, have a large amount of small particles and the majority of the cargo exported from India seems to be loaded from open stockpiles.
Given the recent experience, iron ore fines clearly falls into the category of a cargo which may liquefy.  The 2004 edition of the Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes (the BC Code) defines cargoes which may liquefy as cargoes which contain at least some fine particles and some moisture, usually water, although they need not be visibly wet in appearance.  They may liquefy if shipped with a moisture content in excess of their transportable moisture limit.
The BC Code requires shippers of such cargoes to provide, before loading commences, the Master with a certificate on the moisture content and its transportable moisture limit.  Of course, the cargo must not be carried if the moisture content exceeds the transportable moisture limit.
Recent investigations show that, even in the knowledge of the recent casualties, many shippers are reluctant or unable to produce the necessary documentation. Moreover, some shippers appear to be offering, when pressed so to do, certificates which contain unreliable information (such as approximate figures for moisture content and transportable moisture limit) on the transportable moisture limit and/or the actual moisture content.
An additional issue appears to be that the availability of facilities to establish accurately the flow moisture point (from which the transportable moisture limit is derived) is extremely limited in India despite the large and growing volume of exports of iron ore fines.  Accordingly, it can take some considerable time for such vital information to be verified by way of a proper analysis to establish accurately the flow moisture point. 
Members considering loading iron ore fines from any Indian port should, of course, insist upon the production of the appropriate certificate before loading commences but also treat any certificate provided by shippers with caution.  Where there is reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the certificates Members must be prepared to refuse to load the cargo pending further investigation into the actual condition of the cargo.
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