Home 2008: 3 Dangerous cargo transportation: How serious are we?

Dangerous cargo transportation: How serious are we?

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Players in the shipping industry are puzzled at the Port Klang Authority’s about-turn in liberalising the issuance of Container Packing Certificates, observes Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan. The message must be clear. Anyone that plays around with safety issues should be booted out, no matter how much influence they have with the Minister himself, as is popularly believed.

How serious is the government on safety issues in the shipping industry especially in the transportation of dangerous goods?

Previous Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy always urged transport and logistics industry players to take safety issues more seriously. He stressed that in the race to improve efficiency, safety must not be compromised nor should it take a back seat. In his speech at the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) Awards Nite recently, he complained that safety issues had not been given the emphasis it deserves.

The recent talk of the town on the other hand suggests that the Klang Port Authority (LPK), which comess under the Transport Ministry, is not taking the minister’s words or the UN recommendation on the transport of dangerous goods seriously. Not unlike other sectors, the Malaysia Boleh culture probably exhibits habits of reacting only when serious upheaval happens. Is LPK waiting for some serious accident involving deaths probably before it reacts? Maybe.

Safety a serious business

At the global level, UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods adopted by the UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods in Geneva in December 2000 takes very serious issue with the transportation of dangerous goods.

These recommendations followed the introduction of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code as a uniform international code for the transport of dangerous goods by sea. Governments including Malaysia have been urged to adopt a uniform international code for the transport of such dangerous goods by sea as contained in the 1960 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas).

For maritime safety the Code lays down basic principle; detailed recommendations for individual substances, materials and articles; and a number of recommendations for good operational practice including advice on terminology, packing, labelling, stowage, segregation and handling, and emergency response action.

Among others, dangerous goods are explosives, gases, flammable gases, non-flammable, non-toxic gases, toxic gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, substances liable to spontaneous combustion, substances which in contact with water emit flammable gases, flammable solids, self-reactive substances and desensitised explosives, substances liable to spontaneous combustion, oxidising substances, organic peroxides, toxic and infectious substances, radioactive material, corrosive substances and miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles.

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Since it requires Contracting Governments to ensure that port facility security assessments are seriously carried out, port facility security plans are required to be developed, implemented and reviewed in accordance with the ISPS Code. This requires companies in the business “to designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management” for certification purposes.

It was agreed that there was a need to review and strengthen requirements for Dangerous Cargo Endorsements (DCEs) to terminal personnel and cargo surveyors. Amendments were hence made to guidelines for the authorisation of organisations acting on behalf of the administration (Resolution A.739(18)) which are mandatory under Solas chapter XI-1 to require the use of only exclusive surveyors and auditors for surveys and certification which the member states are expected to implement and enforce as well as maintain as high as possible standards of implementation exercising vigilance at all times.

In its latest resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, the UN General Assembly welcomed the entry into force of the ISPS Code and related amendments to Solas and, among other things, urged all states to work with the IMO to promote safe and secure shipping.

At the 2000 Millennium Summit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan remarked, “We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human dignity. Unless all these causes are advanced, none will succeed.”

Safety at sea is a serious business. Each accidental claim comes to hundreds of million. In a recent case, the whole ship had to be scrapped because a toxic spill from a dozen or so containers damaged the ship beyond repair. They took the case to court and swiftly won. No wonder that insurance companies are wary of such coverages and charge exorbitant premiums making the transportation of such hazardous cargo not only risky but expensive too.

LPK’s puzzling about-turn

In Malaysia, the Transport Ministry delegates the responsibility of such safety implementation and enforcement to its Port Authorities one of which is LPK whose recent repeated about-turn decision-making on the issue proved mind boggling on the CPC issue, which actually forms part of the export documentation and is hence a very serious matter.

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First it was pathetic enough for LPK to allow any Tom, Dick or Harry, even a dispatch clerk, to sign the ‘Container Packing Certificate’ better known as the CPC knowing very well that it concerns grave safety issue and exposed to claims running into hundreds of million dollars. Ships have caught fire and were totally scrapped merely from a simple neglect of wrongful or non-declaration of Dangerous Cargoes.

Probably finally realising its significance and consequence and the colossal risk it poses and on the face of its commitment to the IMO, LPK decided to properly implement CPC by organising it to be issued by properly trained competent and independent surveyors.

It can only be a smart move for LPK to ensure the CPC is issued only by ‘independent surveyors’ (qualified, competent and well trained) as a neutral party to sign and certify the CPC in order to ensure that dangerous goods are packed, stuffed and secured in the container in compliance with the requirement of the IMDG

To its credit, several local survey companies rose to the occasion and sent their best candidates to sit for the exams, whose passing standards was understandably kept high by the LPK. Most of these companies invested heavily in the training, preparation of the analysing and surveying system, and supporting infrastructure including expansion of their offices.

Overnight, the LPK was said to have become a role model and other neighbouring ports supposedly showed keenness in emulating the system LPK had put in place to garner support, cooperation and compliance in ensuring the safety of people, ports, ships, cargoes, containers, warehouses and all parties involved in the handling of these dangerous goods.

Just as soon as the ports, local insurance companies, shipping lines from all over the world, P & I Clubs, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, genuine exporters and importers, and foreign ports began fully supporting and praising the move by the LPK – supposedly to reduce risks, tremendously improves safety standards, reduce costs and eliminate the chances of any irresponsible compromise to safety, the LPK made a sudden about turn and threw everything into the sea. Overnight, the LPK became a laughing stock in the Industry.

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All of a sudden everything in this CPC was scrapped by the LPK, regretfully tossing everything into disarray. Players in the entire shipping industry players who handle dangerous cargo are puzzled at the childish attitude of the LPK. People have begun to question the sincerity of our Transport Minister. While he speaks of safety, his people down the line are doing just the opposite. One wonders where the LPK gets its impunity? Before the saga of the Free Zone saga can settle, the LPK, to everyone’s amazement, has come up with another major disappointment. .

Professionals such as auditors, lawyers, accountants, doctors, and company secretaries are licensed by the authorities to ensure they are competent enough to shoulder their heavy responsibilities. So why is it that when it comes to independent surveyors (who issue the CPC for dangerous good cargoes), the LPK now wants to allow the issuance of CPC to be liberalised? Should any Tom, Dick and Harry be allowed to issue such critical export documents?

The people are calling upon the Transport Ministry to overhaul the running of the LPK. We need more serious and more responsible people to run the place – not haphazard decision-making stooges in such responsible places. The message must be clear. Anyone that plays around with safety issues should be booted out, no matter how much influence they have with the Minister himself, as is popularly believed. Malaysia is moving forward. We cannot compromise on safety. Only fully competent and licensed persons should issue CPC Certificates. Nothing less is acceptable.

Can Ong Tee Keat , the Transport Minister, rise to the challenge?

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