This article will look at some of the challenges in handling bulk fertiliser cargoes, particularly at discharge ports, and will highlight some of the practical solutions to overcome such difficulties. The following areas are discussed as factors contributing to the degree of success in handling fertilisers by terminal operators: • Type of fertiliser handled and its characteristics; • Mode of shipping the commodity and adequate controls during the sea passage; • The main areas of concern when handling bulk fertilisers at discharge ports; • Solutions and techniques available to deal with problems, and • Potential benefits to the end user. The most commonly handled fertilisers shipped in bulk to markets around the world include Urea, DAP, NPK, MOP and MAP. Typically they all show hydroscopic tendencies, however it is possible for the suppliers to add anti-caking agents to reduce the affect that moisture has on the material. Some, such as DAP, are more prone to ‘lumping’ than others and this will require additional handling techniques.
From a terminal operator’s point of view, the timely discharge of vessels without incurring demurrage costs or cargo degradation during the discharge is an important consideration. However the discharge operation of such cargoes is just one element of the logistics cycle that stretches from shipper to the end user. The problems that a terminal operator experiences at the point of discharge could potentially emanate from shortcomings throughout the treatment of fertilisers along the logistics chain prior to reaching the port of discharge. Such shortcomings leading to deterioration of cargo quality and/or cargo losses present a variety of problems for all parties involved in the logistics chain. For a terminal operator, handling fertilisers in a developing port where resources to remedy such problems are limited or are not available could mean that discharge operations will prove to be very costly. There are three key stages in the logistics cycle of handling fertilisers from shipper to end user and careful consideration is the key to maintaining integrity of the cargo throughout. These are, the preparation and shipping of the cargo; the handling of the cargo at the discharge port, and the direct or indirect delivery to the end user from the port. At the first stage, the shipper has a responsibility to ensure that the physical characteristics of the cargo offered at the loading facility from the plant is exactly what is contracted for. Any processes that assist the fertiliser to maintain its free-flowing properties – such as prilling of urea cargoes – need to be carried out carefully prior to shipping. The quality of the process, as well as proper inspection and validation of the process prior to approval of the cargo for loading, are important steps in maintaining quality.