With the ongoing chaos caused by record-high freight rates in container shipping, some shippers have been forced to look for more creative ways to move cargo from point A to B, including the use of bulk carriers and general cargo vessels for their shipping needs.
But a big risk comes with it. According to a recent report from marine casualty consultant WK Webster, last month the bulk carrier Great Beauty was forced to return to port in China after containers stowed in its holds shifted and collapsed during bad weather while sailing from Taicang, China, to Savannah, Georgia. General Average may now be required to intervene as cleanup work and investigation of the incident is underway.
After receiving a number of inquiries about the carriage of containers on vessels that are not primarily designed to carry containers, the P&I club Steamship Mutual has issued guidance alerting its members to the risks associated with this practice.
As Steamship Mutual points out in its Risk Alert RA 74, container stack collapse and loss of containers overboard are not uncommon in container shipping, even on vessels specifically designed to carry containers. But loading containers on vessels that are not purpose-built poses additional risks that shippers must consider to ensure coverage.
The Steamship Mutual’s new guidance aims to provide information to members on the risks presented by these operations and to draw attention to the need to ensure that a vessel is suitable for the safe loading, carriage and discharge of cargo and is equipped with adequate means to secure such cargo. It also identifies some of the key information gathering and reporting tasks necessary to consider such activities, along with other due diligence and risk assessment considerations to mitigate and minimize potential risks.
Steamship Mutual also notes that the carriage of containerized cargoes on vessels that are not specifically designed for that purpose may constitute a material change of risk within the meaning of “Rule 6 v,” and therefore it is important that advance notice of such operations be given to reduce the possibility of coverage being impaired.
“Members should assess whether the vessel and stowage locations intended for the carriage of containerized cargo have the required structural strength and can be adequately adapted for the safe carriage of cargo,” Steamship Mutual says in the guide.
The guide also provides information on some key aspects to consider, such as having a class-approved stowage and securing plan, when conducting primary and subsequent assessments to determine the vessel’s suitability for the carriage of the proposed containerized cargo.