Nickel Ore Liquefaction – Another Tragic Episode

9 Sep 2019 News

Indonesia’s maritime authorities this week reported that a lifeboat belonging to the missing national flagged bulk carrier Nur Allya has been found near that country’s Obi Islands. An oily sheen was also reported to have been sighted nearby. The 52,400dwt, LOA 189m vessel last made contact with her owners, PT Gurita Lintas Samudra, on August 20, 2019, with a distress call made from a position near Buru Island while on a domestic coastal voyage from Gebe Island to Indonesia’s Sulawesi province carrying nickel ore.

INTERCARGO was quick to release a statement voicing deep concern for the 25 seafarers on board, adding that “although the cause of the potential casualty is not known and must be established by prompt investigation by the Indonesian authorities, INTERCARGO urges all shipowners, operators and seafarers to exercise extreme caution when accepting, for carriage, nickel ore and other cargoes that have the potential to liquefy. We would like to stress the importance of adhering to the provisions in the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) to ensure the safety of lives at sea and the safe transportation of dry bulk cargoes.”

INTERCARGO’s intervention was prompted by the largely undisputed fact that cargo shifting on account of liquefaction is to blame for at least nine bulk carrier casualties from 2012 to 2018 resulting in the loss of 101 seafarers’ lives. Among those, at least seven involved bulk carriers carrying nickel ore from or domestically within Indonesia.

INTERCARGO adds “it is indeed frustrating to see a lack of consolidated efforts and commitment from all stakeholders including Shippers, Receivers and Port State authorities at load and discharge ports to eliminate the problem and safeguard the lives of innocent seafarers, despite a heightened awareness of the problem by the industry through various publications produced by the P&I Clubs and Industry associations.”

In releasing its Bulk Carrier Casualty Report (2018) earlier this year, INTERCARGO highlighted that between 2009 and 2018, 188 lives were lost in bulk carrier casualties and 48 bulk carriers over 10,000dwt were identified as total losses. As mentioned above, nine of these casualties with the loss of 101 seafarers’ lives occurred between 2009 and 2018 and were attributable to cargo related incidents.

The vessels in question are:

Asian Forest (2009) iron ore fines

  • Black Rose (2009) iron ore fines
  • Jian Fu Star (2010) nickel ore
  • Nasco Diamond (2010) nickel ore
  • Hong Wei (2010) nickel ore
  • Vinalines Queen (2011) nickel ore
  • Sun Spirits (2012) iron ore fines
  • Trans Summer (2013) nickel ore
  • Harita Bauxite (2013) nickel ore
  • Bulk Jupiter (2015) bauxite
  • Emerald Star (2017) nickel ore

The known cause of these tragic losses was cargo liquefaction involving iron ore fines; nickel ore or bauxite. Although all are classified as solid bulk cargoes, there is always a level of water present within the granular texture of the materials. Water may accumulate during mining, processing or during exposed and lengthy periods of storage, often sitting on barges to await loading on a vessel. The cargo may be stable prior to being loaded on board but during a sea passage, particularly during heavy weather, these products are subject to an increase in water pressure and ultimately liquefaction.

The time between the initiation of this process and the capsizing of a vessel can be alarmingly short. Liquefaction begins in a small portion of the cargo and rapidly spreads, resulting in a sudden unrestricted shifting of the entire mass in a cargo hold(s).

The relevant casualty reports make depressing reading, the case of Bulk Jupiter being an example. This particular incident was unusual in being the only one involving bauxite and the only one involving a cargo loaded in Malaysia, the majority originating in Indonesia.


In total 186.55 hours of loading was lost due to rainfall, the equivalent of 7 days of loading over the period. The infrastructure available to adequately store and transport bauxite in Kuantan increased the exposure of the bauxite to the elements. Despite the crew’s diligent response to the rain by continually opening and closing the hatch covers to reduce the ingress of water, the cargo remained exposed while on the quayside, in stockpiles, and in the trucks. An independent inspection was not requested by the Master to verify the properties of the cargo prior to loading on board. Considering the extreme weather conditions and storage facilities available it was acknowledged that the cargo was very wet and that measures to protect the cargo onshore from further rain were not effective in preventing further wetting. The absence of an independent inspection resulted in the cargo being loaded without its physical properties and moisture content being verified against the parameters of the IMSBC Code schedule or the cargo declaration form.


The IMO replaced the 1979 Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes (BC Code) in 2008 with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code) with the intent of facilitating the safe stowage and shipment of solid bulk cargoes by providing information on the dangers associated with the shipment of certain types of cargo and instructions on the procedures to be adopted. The gap in the system, however, is that, while the IMSBC Code prohibits the Master of a vessel from loading bulk cargoes exceeding the allowable Transportable Moisture Limit (TML) and Moisture Content (MC), the certified declaration of the TML and MC is provided by the shipper.

To further complicate matters, the potential for liquefaction depends not just on how much moisture is in bulk cargo, but also on other physical characteristics, such as particle size distribution, the ratio of the volume of solid particles to water and the relative density of the cargo,

As with forest fires in Amazon Basin, a problem recently highlighted by the media but in reality, going back more than 30 years, the ability of Central Governments to influence events on the ground in a developing country with selective application of laws and standards of operation, is limited. As the records clearly demonstrate, this has for several years been the challenge for Indonesia. For those us whose careers have taken us to live, work and play in that part of the world, we know how it works. The true sadness is the willingness of shippers, to knowingly and consistently put the lives of innocent seafarers at risk with little fear of prosecution when the potential consequences are so dire.

The DNV GL Bulletin of May 2019 further promotes the need for those with responsibility in this context to enforce IMO standards, to finally take their responsibilities seriously. I invite you to take a read.