International initiatives on the safe handling of cargo



Mike Compton, Chairman, International Safety Panel, ICHCA International, Essex, UK



There are two United Nations Agencies dealing with cargo handling matters at an international level in relation to the transport of cargoes by sea: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The former, which was established in 1919, is concerned with issues of development and promotion of minimum international labour standards and is based in Geneva, whilst the latter, which was established in 1948, deals with all maritime matters, other than the employment of seamen and is based in London. In addition, ICHCA International, which was originally established in 1952, is the organisation that represents cargo-handling interests at an international level. This article looks at a series of actions variously taken by the above mentioned organisations this year to improve cargo handling, culminating in meetings held at the end of September and beginning of October.

Conventions, Codes, Recommendations

The ILO has had Conventions on the safety and health of dockwork since 1929, with the current one dating from 1979. Known as ILO 152, it lays down principles to be observed in the loading and unloading of cargo ships and the consequential terminal operations and is supplemented by a Recommendation (#160) and a Code of Practice. First published in 1958, the Code of Practice explains how those principles might be attained and, after a major review, the third edition was published in February this year. Thus, the ILO provides a complete set of standards whereby national laws can prescribe how dockwork may be safely organised and carried out.

The IMO has over the years developed and published many Conventions, Codes, Guides and Recommendations that apply in one degree or another to cargo handling and it continues to be very active in this regard. The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC/80) in May approved the text of a Manual for Terminal Representatives on the Code of Safe Practice on the Loading and Unloading of Solid Bulk Cargoes (the BLU Code). The BLU Code was adopted in 1998 and introduced for the first time the concept of a terminal representative who liaises with the ship’s master regarding all loading and unloading issues. The Manual is intended to guide the terminal representatives in their duties and it has since been published by the IMO in the form of an MSC Circular. In addition, DSC/10 (IMO’s Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers Sub Committee) considered widening the scope of the BLU Code to include grain. This extensive but vital trade had been excluded because there was already a mandatory grain code. However, that deals with safe carriage by sea, whereas the BLU Code is concerned with loading and unloading and it is expected that this widening of the scope will be achieved, possibly next year.

MSC/80 also approved a set of guidelines on what constitutes a serious deficiency in a freight container such that it warrants an inspector duly approved under the IMO’s Container Safety Convention (CSC) placing a prohibition on the onward movement of the box in the intermodal chain. These guidelines have also been issued by the IMO – in this case as a CSC circular – and it has been developed to assist such inspectors to determine whether a freight container is safe to be handled. ICHCA International’s International Safety Panel (ISP) at its recent 46th meeting in Odense agreed to incorporate this text into its pamphlet on the CSC and to recommend to the industry that it should adopt such criteria as well. The DSC/10 meeting at the end of September decided to provide for a reporting scheme whereby national governments can report to the IMO details of any resultant inspection systems on these deficiencies that they establish.

Dangerous goods

On the subject of dangerous goods, a number of measures/steps have been taken. DSC/10 has finalised the 33rd amendment to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code), which will go to MSC/81 next May for approval and subsequent printing in the autumn of 2006, and deals with packaged dangerous goods. At the same time, MSC/80 approved a revision of the Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes (the BC Code). This is the complementary Code that deals with dry bulk cargoes that have or could take on dangerous properties during carriage at sea. This is expected to be published shortly and, at the same time, MSC and DSC are working together to bring the BC Code into mandatory status internationally. The IMDG Code became mandatory on 1 January 2004 and it has been determined that the BC Code will follow. The effect will be to require all the signatories to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1974 (known as SOLAS) to give the code the force of law in their own national legislation, and subsequently, means apply it to their own flag fleets.

Another very relevant IMO publication concerning dangerous goods, despite having a lower status, is its Recommendations on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods in Port Areas. Originally published in 1973, the third edition was issued in 1995. This is widely used as the basis for port rules, laws and byelaws and DSC/10 continued with the process of revising it yet again. It is intended that that process will be finalised at DSC/11 and, having been approved by MSC, will be published in the early part of 2007.

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