Nickel Ore - Risk of Liquefaction

23 November 2010

Industry reports on the recent total loss of a bulk carrier off Taiwan have highlighted that the ship was laden with nickel ore from Indonesia. The sinking has resulted in a significant loss of life but the surviving seafarers are reported to have described how the ship lost stability and capsized before sinking.

Further, worrying reports on a second recent total loss and the circumstances in which a bulk carrier with stability problems was beached deliberately have emphasised that each of those ships was also laden with nickel ore.

The London P&I Club’s StopLoss bulletin has twice featured articles emphasising the great care that must be taken when loading nickel ore in Indonesia and the Philippines, because of the risk of liquefaction and the practical difficulties in establishing whether the cargo offered shipment is safe for carriage. The relevant articles are contained in issues 42 and 46 of StopLoss which can be downloaded here.

Two cases handled by the London P&I Club recently emphasise that the previous warnings about nickel ore are likely to remain valid for the foreseeable future.

In the first case, the Member contacted the Club very soon after receiving orders from a time charterer to load nickel ore in New Caledonia. The Club arranged for an expert to travel to New Caledonia and, with the assistance of the Master, all of the cargo presented for shipment was rejected as unsafe. As there was no realistic prospect in the short term of the cargo drying, the voyage was cancelled.

In the second case, while loading nickel ore in Indonesia the Master followed the advice to conduct “can tests” and the Member contacted the Club to report the Master’s concerns. With the assistance of the local Correspondent, digital photographs of the can test were sent to an expert in Singapore, who confirmed that the cargo being loaded was very unlikely to be safe for carriage.

With the co-operation of the time charterers, the cargo was discharged.

The latest casualties which have been tentatively attributed to liquefaction are very stark reminders of the dangers associated with nickel ore. Accordingly, Members are encouraged to make early contact with the Club if they are considering the carriage of nickel ore from any port.