Safety of Life At Shore

Recently two ports came in news with major accidents.

Port of Santos, Brazil: Mid Jan 2016, A large fire in port of Santos resulted in part closure of port and many citizens hospitalized for breathing difficulties and nausea. It is believed that containers carrying sodium dichloroisocyanurate exposed to rain started a thermal runaway reaction resulting in fire involving other containers some of which carrying hydrochloric acid. A large toxic smoke cloud covered part of Santos port prompting authorities to warn citizens to stay indoors with doors and windows closed. [1]

Tianjin, China: Two consecutive explosions took place on 12th August 2015, the second blast, within 30 seconds from first, did the maximum damage. The second blast involved detonation of about 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate generating seismic shock-waves with energy equivalent to 21 tonnes of TNT. 173 deaths and more than 700 injuries, this includes 95 deaths of firefighters, the worst incident for frontline responders since the founding of PRC. Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, where the accident took place, had stored dangerous goods including sodium cyanide, calcium carbide, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and other chemicals.

There are many accidents involving chemicals and dangerous goods occurring on shore across the world and out at sea.

Sinking of Titanic on 14th April 1912 resulting in deaths of more than 1500 passengers and crew prompted the leading industrialized maritime nations to deliberate and adopt the Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). SOLAS went through various amendments adopting new provisions and keeping pace with the expansion and progress of industry for better safety standards for sea going vessels. For safe carriage of cargo amplified sections of SOLAS convention is published through IGC Code (International Code of the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquefied Gases in Bulk), IBC Code (International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk), IMSBC Code (International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code), IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code) etcetera.

Under IMDG Code packaged dangerous goods offered to load on a vessel from West Coast U.S. or Japan meets the same safety standards and vessel stow the goods under same rules enhancing safe carriage and minimizing possibility of an incident or accident.

How dangerous goods are handled at ports? There are no universally accepted or adopted methods for safe handling of dangerous goods at ports. Each country stipulates their own safety measures and standards which is passed down to individual ports adopting what fits them best in time pressured liner industry.

One cannot say for sure whether negligence or deliberate disregard to guidelines resulted in Tianjin and Santos accidents. However, these unfortunate incidents do give us an opportunity to rethink how we currently handle dangerous goods in port areas and where we can improve upon.

The best guidelines come from IMO, International Maritime Organization, through Recommendations on The Safe Transport of Dangerous Cargoes and Related Activities in Port Areas.

These recommendations cover all types of dangerous goods handled in port areas including Explosives, Radioactive, Bulk Solid, Bulk Liquid and Gas and Packaged dangerous goods, containerized and non-containerized.

Dangerous goods containers are recommended to be kept with their doors to the roadway and not to be stacked on top of each other. The positioning of dangerous goods containers may be either every odd or every even numbered slot.


Containers and packages must be segregated between each other as determined by the port authority considering compatibility between each cargo. Adequate access must be provided to containers and packages for emergency services and first responders.

Keeping of dangerous goods containers and segregation between the goods may be done as per part 7 of IMDG Code.

Below IMO recommended segregation may be appropriate for ports however the provisions may be changed to more stringent when there are housing, chemical plants etcetera closer to the port.


Packages/IBCs/trailers/flat racks or platform containers


0 = no segregation necessary unless required by the individual schedules

a = away from – minimum 3 m separation required

s = separated from – in open areas, minimum 6 m separation required in sheds or warehouses, minimum 12 m separation required unless separated by an approved fire wall


Closed containers/portable tanks/closed road vehicles

0 = no segregation necessary

a = away from – no segregation necessary

s = separated from – in open areas, longitudinally and laterally, minimum 3 m separation required, in sheds or warehouses longitudinally and laterally, minimum 6 m separation required unless separated by an approved fire wall

Open road vehicles/railway freight wagons/open-top containers

0 = no segregation necessary

a = away from – minimum 3 m separation required

s = separated from – in open areas, longitudinally and laterally, minimum 6 m separation required, in sheds or warehouses longitudinally and laterally, minimum 12 m separation required unless separated by an approved fire wall

Classes 1, 6.2 & 7 are recommended to be handled direct load/discharge or kept and handled by special rules developed by the port considering safety and security specifically for these classes.

Ports, CFS, ICD and all other shore based facilities handling dangerous goods must take due diligence to avoid incidents and accidents. Safety of Life at Shore can only be achieved through good understanding of the hazard involved and correct method of handling with adequate training to all concerned.


The revised Recommendations are aligned with relevant IMO codes and the IMDG

Code in particular. It is considered essential to harmonize the rules within the port area with those applied to the ship in order to ensure smooth operations and to avoid misunderstandings between ship and shore. A non-exhaustive glossary of relevance to the handling of dangerous cargoes is given in appendix 1 of this publication.

English        IB290E        ISBN 978-92-801-14720

French         IB290F         978-92-801-23252

Spanish        EB290S        978-92-801-01713