Wheat is considered to be one of the most important and mass-produced types of grain, but it is also one of the most difficult and dangerous to transport. Last year the total production of wheat was 735.59 million tonnes and the estimated worldwide wheat production for 2016/2017 will be 784.24 million tonnes.
The world’s largest producers of wheat include the European Union, China, India, Russia, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and Pakistan. The top five importers of wheat are Egypt, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, whilst the top five exporters are the United States of America, France, Canada, Australia and Argentina.
Wheat is often transported as bulk cargo, rarely in bags, by sea, rail and road. When shipping wheat there are many risk factors that need to be taken into consideration, and one of the most important of these is the angle of repose (the steepest angle at which a sloping surface formed of loose material is stable). Wheat, like the most grains, has an angle of repose of about 20 degrees from the horizontal, this means that if the ship rolls more than 20 degrees then the cargo will shift and could cause the ship to capsize.
Additionally, there is a list of other factors such as temperature, humidity, moisture, ventilation, biotic activity, gases, odour, contamination, self-heating, mechanical influences, shrinkage, shortage, and insect infestation/disease, that play a role. For example, wheat requires specific temperature, humidity, moisture and ventilation conditions to be transported safely.
Certain prerequisite measures, both for the vessel and when handling the cargo, need to be taken in order for safe transportation. These include:
- Vessels must meet the mandatory requirements of the International Grain Code
- Hatch covers must be in weather- tight condition
- Necessary hatch cover sealing supplies must be carried on board and/or used (if needed) to prevent water ingress in the cargo holds during voyage.
- Cargo holds must be clean, dry and free of insects
- There should not be any loose rust or paint scale anywhere in the cargo holds
- Inspection of wheat’s moisture content is mandatory
- A cargo quality certificate is mandatory
- The necessary cargo information/instruction of carriage by sea must be obtained from the shipper.
- Monitoring of weather conditions
- The cargo must be sampled and checked regularly to monitor its condition.
- A draft survey before and after cargo loading is required
- All cargo holds to be closed and properly secured
- The hatches must be sealed properly
- Prevent the entering of sea water in the cargo holds during adverse weather conditions
- Obtain a fumigation certificate/instruction from the authorities.
- Check the cargo hold bilge, cargo temperature and humidity regularly
- Ensure the stability of the ship is maintained
- Adjust ventilation if required
- Maintain accurate records
- Ventilate the cargo holds as necessary
- Prevent over-heating of the fuel oil tanks next to the cargo holds
- Follow the fumigation instructions stringently
During the handling of wheat, the weather is one of the most important factors to be considered. In damp conditions such as during rain or snow, the cargo must be protected from moisture as the wetting and high humidity could lead to the growth of mould, spoilage and self–heating due to increased respiratory activity. The cargo should not be saturated at any stage.
Looking at the history of claims for this type of cargo, it is evident that in the last few years many claims have been filed due to not following the right instructions when transporting this type of cargo. If all parties involved pay attention to the factors and requirements outlined above (risk factors, shipping requirements, etc.) then this will definitely help prevent, or at least mitigate, the losses.