Shipping Containers and Dangerous Goods Handling

As climate change continues to increase its momentum, so is its potential to cause severe damage to local and intercontinental ecosystems, affecting both the health and habitat of the inhabitants of the planet.

Natural disasters themselves are not the only thing causing global catastrophe either — with every natural disaster the earth endures, it is causing severe damage to man-made infrastructure, from the supply chain to power grids.

The toppling of infrastructure takes its toll in many ways, and many of which we don’t see immediately.

A Handful of Examples

Philippines – In addition to destroying lives and infrastructure, a 300 km per hour wind-fuelled typhoon destroyed the local supply chain, and many ships carrying dangerous goods were rerouted.

Indonesia – Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are just a handful of disasters which have affected Indonesia over the years; causing oil spills, and leaking hazardous materials into the surrounding ecosystem.

Fukushima, Japan – The tsunami of March 2011 which slammed into Fukushima caused severe damage to both the supply chain, and other infrastructure. Nuclear power plants melted down (and are still melting down over three years later); creating the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever known.

In addition to its nuclear disaster, oil tanks spilled over 1,920,000 litres of oil into the ocean.

mygreenlivingideas.com - Shipping Containers and Dangerous Goods  Image from Ricky from Flickr Creative Commons

Preventing Catastrophe

Due to the almost absolute unpredictability of these disasters, organisations ranging from the United Nations, participating governments, and the International Maritime Organisation have joined forces at various levels to create standards which outline security and safety protocols when shipping over sea.

One safety guide for shipping dangerous goods is called the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, and was developed as a uniform international code for transporting dangerous goods over the ocean through shipping containers and the like.

The code was intended to harmonize international codes worldwide, and to supplement the regulations contained in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which was instituted back in 1960.

A group within the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee worked steadfastly with the United Nations to create the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code in 1961, which built upon and improved the UN’s own 1956 report establishing minimum requirements for dangerous goods transport in every capacity, from land to sea, and over the air.

From the UNECE; “In order to ensure consistency between all these regulatory systems, the United Nations has developed mechanisms for the harmonization of hazard classification criteria and hazard communication tools (GHS) as well as for transport conditions for all modes for transport (TDG)”.

To many, it is perceived that in lieu of today’s ever-changing environment and climate, more should be done to regulate the transport of hazardous materials in every capacity.

Amendments to the IMDG Code are open to proposals submitted to the IMO by Member States, as well as amendments needed to improve current United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods.

Existing Codes and Regulations

In the meantime, the existing IMO codes as discussed above are divided into 9 classes which cover the handling of explosives; gases; flammable and inflammable gases, solids, or liquids; toxic and non-toxic gases, solids, or liquids; substances that have the potential to spontaneously combust, or emit harmful gases when exposed to water; oxidising substances or peroxides; organic substances or peroxides; infectious or corrosive substances, radioactive materials, and miscellaneous dangerous items.

Many of these listed items are considered marine pollutants, and some have a much higher potential for causing harm to the environment than others.

While effective most of the time, not all of the regulations laid out in this complex code are mandatory. Many of them, while created with good intention, have been modified over time to reduce legal liability of the corporations who manage their share of the supply chain.

The latest edition of the IMDG Code sets basic expectations and recommendations, clarifies terminology and operational practices, in addition to being completely archaic at best.

As we saw with the BP oil spill, consequences for companies breaking the code are minimal, regardless of how well the groups which created the code feel its emergency response action processes were defined.

The handling of this spill and others only furthers the growing obligation we have for reform, and the complete lack of competency of those who defined it.

Changing the Discussion of Environmental Disasters

In closing, environmental disasters are ever-growing phenomena. The media and world powers that be, often play the victim role when discussing the damages accrued from each and every event.

But truth be told, in this blogger’s’ opinion, that more need to be done in terms of preventive measures to ensure that humans aren’t adding insult to injury with incredibly volatile supply chain practices.

More need to be done to secure the supply chain, prevent further “mishaps”, and add much steeper consequences to companies who cannot adhere to new policy.

The fight against climate change need also clearly include an outward web of modifications to international practices and policy, in every facet of corporate exercise.

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