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Solid bulk cargoes Safe Loading and Unloading practices

The International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) defines solid bulk cargo as "...any cargo, other than a liquid or a gas, consisting of a combination of particles, granules or any larger pieces of material generally uniform in composition which is loaded directly into the cargo spaces of a ship without any intermediate form of containment." Cargoes shipped in bulk are many and varied with stowage factors that can range between 0.18m3/t (ferrochrome) and 5.02m3/t (charcoal) with some types of peat moss being up to 12m3/t.

Following a series of ship losses in the 1980/90s with consequent large loss of life, new rules and guidance were introduced concerned with the construction, maintenance and operation of bulk carriers. The International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code and Supplement (IMSBC Code) which now includes the Code of Practice for the Safe Loading and Unloading of Bulk Carriers (BLU Code) is essential guidance for bulk carrier officers. Bulk carriers pose specific safety concerns which require loading and discharging to be carried out to a well-planned programme ensuring no unnecessary stresses are placed on the ship and that the cargo is stowed to prevent shifting occurring during the voyage. It should be noted that the IMSBC Code specifically excludes grain which is covered by SOLAS and the International Code for the Safe Carriage of Grain in Bulk (IGC Code).

Amongst the rules and guidance of which ships' officers should be aware is the requirement for a shipper to provide, prior to loading a bulk carrier, comprehensive information on the cargo to be loaded. This should include, but not be limited to, the Bulk Cargo Shipping Name (BCSN); the cargo group; the IMO Class and UN Number if applicable; the total cargo quantity and stowage factor; any trimming requirements; advice on the likelihood of shifting (including the angle of repose); and a certificate of moisture content and the transportable moisture limit (TML) in the case of a cargo that may liquefy. The ship must have a loading instrument providing hull girder shear and bending moments information as well as hold, ballast and dry space water ingress alarms and there are restrictions on sailing with holds loaded to less than 10% of capacity in ships over ten years old.

The methods of loading bulk cargo are almost as varied as the cargoes concerned and may range from antiquated and obsolescent systems giving load rates of as little as 50 tonnes per hour to modern loading facilities able to pour the commodity into the ship at rates of up to 7,000 or 8,000 tonnes per hour. The size of ships loading bulk cargo also varies considerably and while these notes primarily deal with bulk carriers, it should be noted that the IGC also refers to `tween deck ships.

There are a number of cargo operations that have the potential to either cause damage to a ship or compromise her safety. Loading bulk cargo by conveyor belt (which may be several kilometres long) can result in overloading of the ship. Close liaison with the terminal at all times is essential particularly as, when completing loading, ships' officers must give prompt notice to shore staff to cease loading as the cargo remaining on the conveyor will always be poured into the ship. This could easily result in her going over her marks. Many loading terminals are in isolated areas where there may be no facilities at all for discharge and in the event of overloading it may take several days at high cost to discharge the excess cargo which took only minutes to load.

Grab discharge (of up to 36 tonnes capacity), the use of bulldozers to move cargo to the hatch square and the use of hydraulic hammers to loosen cargo all have the potential to cause structural damage to the ship. Their use should be carefully monitored with the stevedores held liable for any damage caused.

The IMSBC Code should be referred to for full information a list of cargoes that may liquefy and a list of cargoes which may have hazardous properties.

However, it is stressed that these lists are not exhaustive, and it is essential when the loading of bulk cargo is contemplated that currently valid information should be obtained from the shipper regarding its physical and chemical properties prior to loading.

Proper distribution and disposition of bulk cargo is essential during cargo operations. Ships have suffered severe structural damage both during loading and discharge through insufficient attention to this factor, although it might be considered obvious that undue stresses and strains on the hull must be avoided .

Some bulk cargoes produce a great deal of dust during handling which may be both irritating and harmful to personnel. In such circumstances, personnel working on deck should be provided with suitable protective equipment such as overalls and face masks. If practical the accommodation should be made dust-free by securing doors, windows, portholes and inlets. Air conditioning fans are normally situated clear of cargo holds but, if necessary, the system should be closed down. Thorough washing down of decks and bulkheads should be carried out as soon as possible after the completion of cargo operations, subject, of course, to local regulations on cargo residues being permitted to go overboard with wash water.

Related Information

  1. Checklist to show stability, hull strength, draft, trim, suitability of cargo for a bulk carrier

  2. What is the regulation for a bulk carrier acceptabilty of loading condition ?

  3. Regulation of structural strength for bulk carriers

  4. Regulation of pumping system of bulk carriers

  5. Preparation for ships carrying bulk cargo & standard loading condition

Our detail pages illustrates many safety aspects of Bulk carrier

Home page |||Bulk carrier types ||| Handling of bulk coal |||Cargo planning ||| Carriage of grain |||Risk of iron ores |||Self unloading bulk carriers |||Care of cargo & vessel |||Cargoes that may liquefy |||Suitability of ships |||Terminal guideline |||Hold cleaning |||Cargo cranes |||Ballast handling procedure |||Bulk carrier safety |||Fire fighting systems |||Bulk carrier General arrangement

Operation of sea going bulk carriers involved numerous hazards . Careful planning and exercising due caution for all critical shipboard matters are important . This site is a quick reference to international shipping community with guidance and information on the loading and discharging of modern bulk carriers so as to remain within the limitations as specified by the classification society.
It is vital to reduce the likelihood of over-stressing the ship's structure and also complying with all essential safety measures for a safe passage at sea. Our detail pages contain various bulk carrier related topics that might be useful for people working on board and those who working ashore in the terminal. For any remarks please
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