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Loading (Quick?) Sand in Cambodia: cargo which may liquefy??

May 2, 2014
Issue 9 - May 2014

Welcome to the May 2014 edition of SEA Watch with more updates and commentary on what’s happening in the world of shipping and marine insurance.

Dear reader ,

First on offer is SEA Watch’s take on the terrible "SEWOL" ferry tragedy in South Korea. It’s of course still being investigated but pre-existing steering control problems, which evidently led to a hard port rudder situation in combination with an overloaded and apparently unstable vessel, appears to have been the proximate cause of the capsize. The deadly and untimely fate of over 300 of her passengers – many of them high school students – was then sealed by the apparent incompetence of her Master and crew as well as evident lifesaving equipment deficiencies. Heads will no doubt roll but will this stop it from happening again?

Our next article, which provides an important safety alert in relation to the carriage of sand by sea, is from SEAsia's Director, Captain Kunal. Innocuous stuff you might think and what could go wrong?  However, our research and recent experience suggests the contrary and ambiguities in the IMSBC Code   relating to acceptable moisture point and precautions to be taken are not helping matters. Does it matter? Yes, because much of Singapore is now built on the stuff and much more is scheduled to be shipped in to 'grow' the island.

Oliver, our Transport Claims specialist has this month focused on practical matters with an update on the new Cargo Transport Unit (CTU) Code that relates to safe container packing/stowage as well as the prevention of other container related cargo losses. If you're in the business of transporting or handling containerised cargo, you need to first read this article and then click on the full text of the Code for incorporation into your current procedures.

Next on offer is a 'guest article' written by Akshay Wal, a former Class 1 marine engineer and Lloyd's Register surveyor who has turned his attention to the concepts of leadership and their role in creating better, happier and more productive workplaces as well as teaching these concepts to mariners and ship superintendents. The underlying premise is that good leaders are made and not born and Akshay tells us how this can be done through raising awareness and training. When you've finished reading it, pause and reflect on yourself and the people you work with. You may feel a bit uncomfortable but hopefully inspired to do something about it.

Our final slot provides an update on the SEAsia and C Solutions alliance that was announced in our March edition. People have asked us what's happening on the alliance front and here it is with news of joint activities, shared offices, skills transfer and new personnel along with an expansion and integration of associated networks. The goal is to provide a wide range of top quality maritime services, delivered on time and on budget for what appears to be a slow but steady global economic upturn and expansion in shipping.

Read on and don't forget we would like to hear from you as well. Is there a marine industry issue out there that's puzzling or annoying you? Would you like to contribute an article for our over 7,000 readers? Tell us about it by sending a note to

Ancient Mariner

"SEWOL" ferry disaster:  negligence, death, blame and the prevention of recurrence

Much has been written and aired in the past two weeks about the "SEWOL"  ferry/Ro-pax capsize disaster which took place on 15 April at about 09:00 hrs local time off the South West coast of Korea. The confirmed death toll now exceeds 150 persons. Many more are still missing and presumed dead in waters where, at a temperature of 12℃., hypothermia will kill you in 90 minutes. To make matters worse (and of course more ghoulishly newsworthy), most of the passengers were high school students on an outing. The teacher who organised the trip survived but has since committed suicide because of his feelings of guilt and anguish.

Such tragedies have happened before in both Korea (another ferry sank in 1993 with the loss of many lives) and in other countries where ferry travel is common such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The underlying cause has almost always been found to be human error or negligence. The inference is that human beings, as purportedly the world's most intelligent species, have an extraordinarily poor ability to learn from their mistakes. Or perhaps we have become so morally bankrupt that we simply lack the will?

So what happened on board the "SEWOL" on that fateful day? There has been a great deal speculation but it seems clear that the causative chain of events was initiated, while the Third Mate was on watch and the Master below in his cabin, when the ship's rudder went hard to port while the vessel was at full speed. Whether this was done intentionally or accidentally and whether such an event had occurred previously due to a pre-existing faulty steering mechanism is not yet known. However, the resultant force (akin to leaning a speeding motorbike into a hard left turn) caused the vessel to list heavily to port.

This all occurred in circumstances where it is clear that the vessel was seriously overloaded with on-deck containers, some of which broke away from their lashings along with heavy vehicles on the car deck which may not have been properly secured. Additionally, it seems there may have been some serious irregularities in relation to structural changes made to the "SEWOL" to increase her passenger cabin capacity and the negative impact this could have had on the vessel’s centre of gravity and stability. Were Class KR aware of this and was the ship’s stability data amended accordingly so as to ensure that the ship's righting moment could be kept within acceptable safety parameters at all times? In any event, the cargo shift increased the rudder initiated heavy list to 50 degrees and more, a point where it was not possible to stand on the ship's decks such that the vessel and most of her passengers were effectively doomed when she completely turned over about 80 minutes after the list first occurred.

Investigators have seized documents from the owner's offices and arrests have been made which include the Master (evidently one of the first to abandon ship, in much the same style as the infamous Captain Schettino of the " Costa Concordia"), along with the Third Mate, the duty helmsman and several company officials. If the investigation reveals that improper attention was paid to the ship's initial stability (which appears to have been inadequate such that a subsequent AIS detected sharp turn to port – whether intentionally or accidently – was sufficient to exert forces which likely caused vehicles and containers to shift and start the vessel on her way to flooding and capsize) then Korea’s President Park has effectively dictated that 'heads will roll'. Or will they?

Much will depend on political will and President Park's determination to the change of an inept system along with what is reported as being a seriously flawed organisation, the Korean Shipping Association. This industry organization evidently exerts a high level of influence over the enforcement of maritime regulations in Korea and is staffed by retired government employees such that serious conflicts of interest can arise. Or did Korea’s marine department, in their role as flag state control, just get it badly wrong?

In summary, it is clear that there is still much to be learned about the underlying causes of the "SEWOL" capsize. The other critical issue is the tragic and unnecessary deaths of many of her young passengers due to the unacceptable and arguably criminal behavior of her Master in failing to meet his obligations to order and personally control the abandonment of his ship at an early stage. Let us therefore all hope that President Park meets her commitment to not only finding out the truth but to also do something positive and enduring  (unlike what has happened before in the Philippines and other countries where findings have been effectively swept under the table) to ensure it never happens in her country again.

Loading (Quick?) Sand in Cambodia: Group A or Group C cargo?

Skuld P&I and Tradewinds have recently highlighted concerns as to the carriage by sea of river sand from Cambodia and other SE Asian load ports. It's a huge trade into Singapore with the government announcing a further 100 square Km's of land recovery by 2030 and new high rise buildings still springing up to pack in ever more people.

OK, it's good business for ship owners and the handy size market but is the carriage by sea of river sand a safe exercise within the terms of the IMSBC Code? As set out in our article below, the answer to this question seems to be both "Yes" and "No".  This is no doubt why SEAsia was recently approached by one of the IG Clubs to advise on  sand carriage safety and provide loading superintendence to one of their members' ships.

River sand is normally dredged up from the bottom of estuarine bays and rivers and consists primarily of silica in the form of quartz.  Such sand, used for building and landfill, is essentially water eroded rock and gravel. There are printed ISO standards which provide a grade by reference to particle size as to being fine, medium or coarse up to 5 mm in diameter.

The problem arises when referring to the latest IMSBC Code, 2013 Edition. The language and layout of the Code text have never been particularly easy to understand and the more text and new information added, the harder it gets to obtain precise and unambiguous advice for owners and their Masters to rely on.

Turning now to the shipment we were asked to assist with, one of the first documents we were provided with was a copy of the shipper’s signed declaration providing the details of the sand cargo intended to be loaded on board. The declaration stated that the cargo was Group C such that it had no tendency to liquefy when wet. It also stated that the cargo had a moisture content of 5%.

Reference to the IMSBC Code (at Appendix 1 which contains alphabetically listed details of all common bulk cargoes and is still being added to by the IMO) took us to "SAND" at page 275 that specifically includes "Quartz sand" and states that it is a Group C cargo. So no problem with the declaration, right? No, because there was no analysis attached to prove that the sand was in fact Quartz sand or any of the other four types of sand stated on page 275 or that the granular/particle size was between 0.1 mm to 5 mm. Nor was there any moisture analysis certificate to verify the accuracy of the stated 5% moisture limit.

The major concern for owners and their Club was that it was well known, based on  prior reports of sand loading in Cambodia, the cargo would be loaded wet at anchorage from small barges brought alongside. The two related issues were therefore: 1. IMSBC Code compliance.  2. Possible short landing claims due to en route discharge of residual water from the carrying vessel's cargo hold bilges.

SEAsia's network office surveyor, based in Cambodia, attended on board the vessel. As expected, the pre-load condition of the sand cargo was extremely wet both visually and as confirmed by conducting IMSBC Code ‘can tests’. The 5% moisture declaration was therefore clearly wrong. The difficulty was that although sand samples were taken and sealed for analysis, no labs exist in Cambodia which are currently capable of conducting moisture analysis to IMSBC Code standards. Thus transport to a specialist lab in Malaysia and the time required for testing would have exceeded the planned 5 day loading schedule.

As to moisture content and the IMSBC Code, the "Weather Precautions" text for "SAND" provides that:

"This cargo shall be kept as dry as practicable before loading, during loading and during voyage."

The text also goes on to say that sand cargo should not be loaded during precipitation and that all non-working hatch covers should be kept closed. So the reasonable inference is that sand cargo should be kept very dry. The serious problem is that the IMSBC Code does not state specifically as to why it must be kept dry or advise the particular danger to be avoided. Nor does it say anything at page 275 as to what an owner or Master of a bulk carrier should do if asked to load wet, freshly dredged river/quartz sand which – for all practicable purposes - will never be dry. SEAsia’s assessment of the Code? Confusing and not at all helpful to a Master under pressure to load from shippers and/or charterers.

To understand the magnitude of the problem and the potential risk, it is necessary to understand that the IMSBC Code now contains a new section, "Sand, Heavy Mineral" (see page 276-277).  This new section recognises that such cargoes, due to their fine grain size up to 5 mm (the same size particles as Group C river/quartz sand) should now be classified as Group A, "cargo which may liquefy if shipped at a moisture content in excess of its TML" (Total Moisture Limit).

Further, it is also necessary to look at Appendix 3, Art 2 of the Code, which states:

"Many fine particle cargoes, if possessing a sufficiently high moisture content are liable to flow. Thus any damp or wet cargo containing a proportion of fine particles should be tested for flow characteristics prior to loading."

So is River/Quartz sand a cargo which should in fact be classified as a Group A cargo when wet? Subject to obtaining further and specialist advice, SEAsia believes that such cargoes should be certainly treated with extreme caution. Our concerns are based on the apparent ambiguity of the IMSBC Code as well as a very simple analogy with something which all of us will have heard about: Quicksand. This potentially deadly mix often occurs in areas of River/Quartz sand located in tidal estuarine beach areas. An internet search provided the following commentary:

"Normal sand can support extreme amounts of weight because friction between the grains of sand creates a force chain, distributing the load across a large area. But once there is sufficient moisture, the sand and water becomes a 'suspension' where the sand particles are floating within the water. This significantly reduces the friction between the grains of sand, compromising its ability to support weight."

The vessel and the Master we assisted loaded the designated sand cargo in Cambodia and delivered it to Singapore without mishap. We will tell you more about this story and the problems that were faced in the next edition of SEA Watch. We are also making our own investigation into the technical issues surrounding the carriage of sand by sea.  Meantime, we would urge our readers keep a close look out for what could turn out to be Quicksand declared (inadvertently or intentionally) as a safe Group C cargo.

Container Packing: training, loss prevention and the new CTU Code

On any given day, an estimated 5-6 million containers are on the high seas, carrying everything from roasted peanuts to heavy machinery. However, not all of them make it safely to their destination. The crew of the "Svendborg Maersk" discovered this the hard way (shown in the attached photo) after experiencing hurricane-force winds to 60 knots in the notorious Bay of Biscay, off the coasts of Portugal and France and a loss of 520 containers overboard.

In the aforementioned scenario, one's attention would no doubt first focus on the containers and their external lashing. However, it must be remembered that the external dynamic forces exerted on each and every container are effectively the same as the forces exerted on the cargo stowed inside them.  The possibly surprising inference is therefore that the people who packed and secured the cargo inside the containers that were lost or damaged may well have contributed to the cause of the problem.

Forces experienced at sea move transport units in the same direction as the force being applied. Cargo in containers is thus subjected to a number of forces resulting from different motions. These forces, which include heave, surge, sway, roll, pitch and yaw (with pitch and roll being the most dominant motions a vessel will experience while at sea) can – in adverse weather conditions - often exceed the maximum G-force rating of an ISO Series 1 shipping container.

So how do you prevent movement of your cargo during a sea transport? The simple answer, which has been around for years, is now explained and illustrated in the new Container Transport Unit (CTU) Code (see Annex 7) In summary: ensure that your cargo is properly stowed and secured inside a container. OK, sounds simple, but how is this to be accomplished when one considers the numerous players and stages involved in container transport?

The bottom line is that it's the container cargo packing and securing stage that is critical to successful safe delivery. This may be done by cargo shippers at factory site or by freight forwarders or NVOC's at container freight stations. No matter, because the same principles and due diligence are required in every case and the unfortunate and costly results of neglect and inattention by transport liability insureds are seen by SEAsia on a regular basis

The following steps, as extracted from the CTU Code, should help you and your team to tackle the problem of improper container cargo packing and internal securing and resulting damage:

1) Plan your stowage: Cargo to be loaded into the container should first be stacked in an area of the same size as the transport unit to help you to visualise what extra securing or stabilisation are necessary. The goal is to achieve a tight stowage so that only little or no cargo movement is possible from the outset.

2) Inspect the container before loading: Ensure the container is structurally sound, weather tight and in clean condition.

3) Stack, position and secure cargo properly: Light cargo should be placed on top of heavy cargo and solids should be placed on top of liquids; wood flooring and framing as well as air bag dunnaging may be necessary to prevent sliding or packaging crackdown; place hazardous cargoes near container doors for quick removal, relevant markings must be visible.

4) Be aware of the centre of gravity: Ensure the centre of gravity of your cargo is near the longitudinal centre line of the container and below half the height of the cargo stack.

5) Remember the maximum container payload: Never exceed the maximum design payload and the maximum floor load per square meter of the container.

6) Keep in mind proper weight distribution: Make sure the cargo weight is distributed evenly throughout the container e.g. for a container not more than 60% of the cargo weight is to be distributed over 50% of the length; in particular round shaped cargo, like heavy steel coils, may overstress the container floor if timber bedding/dunnaging under the cargo is not used.

7) Training:  Ensure that comprehensive training to CTU Code standards is provided to  all personnel who are involved in the container cargo packing and securing process. It’s a sound investment and PIC training rebates of up to 60% are available in Singapore.

In conclusion, if you are involved in containerised cargo shipments, then you need familiarise yourself and your team with the new CTU Code (click here) which has been designed to tackle not only cargo stowage and packing issues but all other forms of container carriage loss as well on an global basis. The Code is detailed and lengthy so if you may need some help and advice, then SEAsia will be pleased to assist.

Leadership for Mariners and Superintendents: natural ability or acquired skill?

The dream of most young persons starting their career at sea is work their way up- through study, examination and experience - to a position of leadership as Master, Chief Engineer and, later, to perhaps move ashore as a Superintendent. They start realizing their dreams as their shipboard rank and the number of gold stripes on their uniform keeps increasing. Now there are people they have to lead.

But do you really become a competent leader once you obtain rank and gold stripes? Or is there something more to leadership? Are there levels of leadership competence through which a person can only grow through learning?  

John Maxwell , author of  the best selling guide "360 degree Leadership", has this to say:  "If you think that you are leading – and nobody is following you,  then you are only taking a walk!"

Once you start analyzing the concept of leadership, you will realize that leadership – which is not a subject taught or examined by maritime training institutions - is basically stepped system. It consists of 5 levels of growth and competency from the lowest Level 1 "Rank only” to the highest Level 5 of “Development of level 4 leaders". The levels are as set out below and an explanation follows.

      1. Rank only       2. Relationships oriented       3. Results oriented       4. Reproducing new leaders oriented       5. Development of level 4 leaders focused

Leadership is influence – nothing more and nothing less – and, as you grow to the higher levels of leadership, your circle of influence and your leadership effectiveness expands accordingly.

The sad part is that many seafarers, once they have achieved senior rank, feel they have "arrived". They then sit back, enjoying the power that their rank brings and stop growing their leadership skills. They are followed only because their crew are in of fear the economic repercussions which will flow from disobedience in a quasi-military shipboard management system.

Of course people don't really buy into leadership at Level 1 Rank only because although it may command obedience, it doesn’t command the key ingredient of respect. So for Level 1 Rank only leaders, their crew will usually do the bare minimum, just enough to keep 'the boss' off their back. As such, Level 1 Rank only leaders devalue others and are often lonely. They thrive on internal politics and often run an unhealthy ship where people work not for what is best for the ship and her efficiency, but for what they perceive their Level 1 Rank only leader will appreciate and praise. Not a positive scenario as such leaders often thrive on their inflated egos and flattery from their subordinates.

The next level of leadership, Level 2 Relationships oriented, operates where the leader spends time and effort in coming to know his crew better. He really cares for his people and consciously makes sure that each interaction with his juniors ends on a positive note.

In short, the governing concept is:  "People don't care how much you know, till they know how much you care."

People follow Level 2 leaders because they want to. They will put in their best and working together   as a team becomes a positive and fulfilling experience. Communication channels to Level 2 leaders are always open. People feel valued and trusted and, in turn, they trust their leader. The atmosphere on their ships is relaxed, transparent, ‘politics' free and the crew will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The next level of leadership, Level 3 Results oriented, builds on Level 2 Relationships oriented leadership. Here the Level 3 Results leader, having already built the relationships, focuses on delivering positive results. You are being paid to get the job done: so if a leader gets stuck at level 2, he will end up with a reputation as a nice person, but not always capable of getting the job done effectively.

At Level 3 leadership, people respect you because they like you and they have also seen you deliver results. You have a reputation of being a competent person at your job. They want to learn from you and so will follow you.

Level 3 leaders set a benchmark on board or in any organization that others will want to emulate. These leaders are solutions focused and not fixated on the problem. This helps to create motivation, develop great team spirit and camaraderie.

Level 4 leaders have the confidence to delegate responsibility and develop their people as leaders in their own right.

Level 5 leaders have reached the peak of leadership and this is where the leader now starts teaching and developing new level 4 leaders.

So think about it. Where are you now on the leadership ladder? What about your ship's officers or your  fleet superintendents? It you're a ship owner or manager, this could be a sobering moment if you  consider the direct and positive impact of effective leadership on voyage efficiency, safety and profitability.

As a final thought, leadership is an acquired skill learned through a continuous growth process. Those who don't understand or accept this concept will almost certainly thwart their own leadership potential and their career.  Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It is not the height you reach that matters so much, it is what you become in the process that is of greater and more lasting significance.

I do wish you all the greatest of success in your own journey!

 To read the full article please follow this link page 35 of the magazine.

Akshay Wal is a Class 1 Marine Engineer and former Class LR Surveyor, who now provides seminars on leadership, cross cultural teamwork, conflict resolution etc. Working from Lucknow, India, he may be contacted at  or +091  933 526 7684.

SEAsia + C SOL Alliance: what it's for and where it’s going

In the March edition of SEA Watch we announced the formation of a strategic alliance between four well known marine service groups consisting of SEAsia (P&I Correspondents), C Solutions (Marine Claims Specialists), Moore Energy (Energy Adjusters) and CSL (Project Cargo Surveyors and Consultants).

The original concept was to create a 'cluster' of technical and legal expertise together with a pre-established system of internal communication and procedures designed to provide complementary skills and support to the customers of any one of the alliance members. In simple terms: the creation of an alliance to provide on time, on budget global maritime services at a level that exceeds customer expectations.

The alliance project is now moving forward. In response to questions from clients as to how this is all going to work, we have compiled a dot point outline of our plans and progress as below. The emphasis for now is on the working relationship/alliance between SEAsia and C Sol, with Moore Energy and CSL playing a larger role once the primary alliance arrangements are finalised and cemented into position.

  • SEAsia and C Sol, as the primary alliance members, have already enhanced their talent pool by combining staff and skills from both organisations. Together, they employ maritime lawyers and investigators, claims handlers, master mariners and mediators all within the enlarged team. 
  • SEAsia/C Sol operations in Asia will be conducted from common office premises. Initially, this will be from SEAsia's long established HQ in Singapore and will soon include a new offices in Hong Kong (where SEAsia joins C Solutions in its established Wanchai office), Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
  • SEAsia and C Sol are pleased to announce the recruitment of Tony Wong, a qualified solicitor/master mariner with over 10 years of experience handling maritime claims in Asia for a well known IG Club. Tony will be based in Hong Kong with special responsibility for China.
  • SEAsia and C Sol are also pleased to advise that Willum Richards (formerly with Richards Hogg) of WR Consulting has agreed to represent their interests in New Zealand. Arrangements are also being made with Steve Robertson of Bayside Shipping to extend representation throughout Australia and separate plans are afoot for PNG as well.
  • Cross company directorship appointments have now become common to both SEAsia and C Sol so as to facilitate best practice concepts to grow and flourish between the two business groups. Robert Gordon has been appointed as Chairman of SEAsia and Kunal Pathak is now a Director.
  • Proven Outsourcing and Run Off capabilities now extend across a growing base of diverse expertise.
  • A dedicated mediation brand will soon be launched and run by qualified experts with an already impressive track record of success.
  • C Solutions, the long established legal and claims consultancy headquartered at the Lloyd's Building in London, will continue to handle large, high value marine and insurance claims in competition with the major marine law firms.
  • SEAsia will continue to provide P&I and transport correspondent functions, claims handling and survey expertise to its expanding client base.

SEAsia and C Solutions, together with Moore Energy and CSL, will continue to work directly for their existing and new Clients as before. However, they will now have the added flexibility of being able to handle claims across an expanded value and complexity spectrum. In conjunction, they will also be able to offer a highly competitive fee structure including, contingency (no win - no fee) and agreed lump sum/fixed fee arrangements.

We trust that our 'Alliance Summary' as above will prove helpful to our clients, both old and new, and we will keep you posted as to further developments and new employees and members of the Alliance team.

SEAsia's 24-Hour Number : +65 6323 7732

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