International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code

By Claire Womersley, Senior Associate and Master Mariner, HFW

The IMSBC Code (the "Code") entered into force on 1 January 2011, with mandatory application under the SOLAS Convention (replacing the recommended Bulk Cargo Code), to facilitate the safe stowage and shipment of solid bulk cargoes by providing information on the dangers associated with their carriage and practical advice to control the risks. 

One such danger is liquefaction. This is the phenomenon in which a soil like material is abruptly transformed to an almost fluid state, because of the presence of water. The potentially catastrophic effects of liquefaction include a significant loss of stability which can result in an excessive angle of list/loll to develop and structural failure and/or capsize, depending on the external conditions.  

Because most serious liquefaction cases result in the vessel breaking apart and sinking, often with horrendous loss of life, it is notoriously difficult to establish as the root cause of the incident. However, the tragic losses of the Bulk Jupiter in January 2015 and, more recently, the Stellar Daisy and Emerald Star in March and October of last year (carrying bauxite, iron ore and nickel ore respectively), as well as the UK Club's proactive reporting of two "near misses" since, have focused attention on the sufficiency of the Code's provisions relating to liquefaction on the assumption that it was a common contributing factor.     

Several maritime organisations are currently petitioning for the development of more efficient regulation for these cargoes. Building on the amended testing procedures for iron ore fines, which came into force on 1 January 2017, the present categorisation of bauxite as a group C cargo (i.e. not liable to liquefy under the Code) is being disputed, based on its ability to exhibit group A cargo characteristics depending on its treatment prior to/during loading including whether it has been wetted (through rain exposure or washing) or if its particles have been crushed. 

Although the can test has been preserved since my sea days, it is just one of the tools to be employed by a ship's Master in deciding whether to load a susceptible cargo nowadays.