X Press Pearl 27 May
Credit ICG

Hapag-Lloyd has adopted National Cargo Bureau’s Hazcheck Detect cargo screening tool, becoming the third top-ten carrier, after Maersk and ONE, to do so.

Like other systems of its type, Hazcheck scans bookings for suspicious key words – consignees misdeclaring hazardous cargo to secure cheaper rates are implicated in a number of major ship casualties and the loss of several lives.

“For example, some use ‘plant growth regulator’ when they wish to circumnavigate using the words ‘ammonium nitrate’,” Ken Rohlmann, senior director dangerous goods at Hapag-Lloyd, told The Loadstar. “There are thousands of possibilities allowing them to not name what they should.”

Unaware of their true contents, lines can put containers full of potentially explosive or flammable materials deep in the hold or central in a stack, allowing any fire to spread to surrounding boxes.

Hapag-Lloyd’s adoption of NCB’s Hazcheck Detect partially overrides development of the shipping line’s own in-house system, Cargo Patrol, which has been under development since 2011. However, Mr. Rohlmann explained, its own findings will help further development of the NCB tool.

“In my experience, every carrier is using one system or another for hazardous cargo screening and we are convinced that it’s working better for what we want – more safety. We as an industry must band together and fight this together. We are sharing our experience from the past ten years.

“We’ve had roughly 4,000 shipments a year where we detected evidence that the commodity was not declared as it should have been. We are actively searching for undisclosed dangerous goods, despite the conflict that arises from that – as you can imagine, customers are unhappy when you confront them saying ‘we don’t believe your declaration’.”

Despite itself flagging a container as possibly fraudulently or unintentionally misdeclared, carriers are unable to share customer information due to antitrust concerns and are vulnerable to those containers filtering onboard via a less-stringent alliance partner, thus allowing its vessel to fall victim despite initially refusing the container.

“Every such wrongly declared commodity can risk the lives of seafarers, the environment, the cargo of others and the vessel,” said Mr Rohlmann. “If I protect my vessel from DG, but somebody is putting that cargo on somebody else’s ship, it’s only half a victory.”

Standard Club deputy director of loss prevention John Dolan is emphatically in favour of the industry joining forces “under the banner of safety,” explaining that there is a compelling case for shipping lines to join the independently run Hazcheck scheme. However, he added, there were counterarguments.

“The question comes around to why would every carrier want to develop its own system? But then, of course, there are antitrust concerns, which is likely why NCB would be the honest broker to develop and maintain the Hazcheck, for the greater good of the industry. There are a lot of assumptions in that.

“But the enormous amounts of money carriers made last year and consolidation in the past decade have not gone unnoticed. This… extraordinary skewing of the market means any kind of initiative, even under the banner of safety, will be looked at very closely [by competition authorities] to ensure there are safeguards in place.”

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