As fires spike on boxships, focus turns to dangerous goods carriage

Following an above average period of disasters, class society ABS and representatives from the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) have formed a joint industry project to develop best practices for carriage of dangerous goods.

CINS is a shipping line initiative, whose aim is to increase safety in the supply chain, reduce the number of cargo incidents onboard ships and highlight the risks caused by certain cargoes and/or packing failures. CINS’s membership comprises over 80% of the world’s container slot capacity.

ABS has been working with CINS members over the past six months to develop best stowage strategy guidelines. Following a three-month trial, the best practice guidelines are intended to be published on the CINS website

“Carriage of dangerous goods, not properly identified or accounted for, can be detrimental to the safety of the ship – and, more importantly, to the people on board that ship,” commented ABS vice president for technology, Gareth Burton. “Central to our joint effort is advancing safety by developing a set of best practices incorporating key lessons learned provided by CINS members from past incidents.”

The objective of this project is a comprehensive set of best practices to improve stowage planning and hazard mitigation for dangerous goods carriage, leading to a focused application of existing risk assessment processes.

The number of severe fires onboard boxships caused by the incorrect carriage of dangerous goods has spiked in recent years with the Maersk Honam and Yantian Express being two high profile examples of a worrying growing trend for liner shipping.

Insurer TT Club is pushing for greater scrutiny of dangerous goods carriage onboard boxships, warning that there is now a major containership fire at sea on average every 60 days.

The first three months of this year have been far above the historical average with insurers bracing for massive claims from a series of high profile boxship fires in 2019.

TT Club’s records indicate that across the intermodal spectrum as a whole, 66% of incidents related to cargo damage can be attributed to poor practice in the overall packing process; that is not just in securing but also in cargo identification, declaration, documentation and effective data transfer. The calculated cost of these claims in the marine, aviation and transport insurance sector is in excess of $500m a year.

ICHCA International, the cargo handling operatives association, has calculated that of the 60m packed containers moved each year, 10% or 6m are declared as dangerous goods. Information from published government inspections – which are invariably biased towards declared dangerous goods loads – suggests that 20% of these are poorly packed or incorrectly identified. This translates into 1.3m potentially unstable dangerous goods containers travelling around the world each year.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Why do people mis-declare their DGs? Because it saves money.
    Take away the extra charges and you take away the incentive to mis-declare, greatly reducing the number of DG-related incidents.
    Yes, it may increase costs for everyone else, but wouldn’t you want to spend a couple of dollars more to significantly increase the chances of your cargo actually making to the other end?

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