Exis Technologies continues to play an important role in ensuring safety in the movement of containerised dangerous goods and sees more work ahead, Hazardous Cargo Bulletin, january 2021
When the roots of containerisation began back in 1956, spearheaded by American entrepreneur Malcom McLean looking for a way to get his trucking company’s entire cargo loaded onto a shipping vessel as quickly and efficiently as possible, it would have been hard to expect that by 2022 container shipping would be transporting around 90 per cent of the world’s non-bulk cargo – of which some 10 per cent is recognised as dangerous goods.
In 2022 Exis Technologies celebrates 35 years supplying IT solutions for the management of these dangerous goods in sea transport, helping shippers, consignors, forwarders and shipping lines to comply with the regulatory requirements.
Early, paper-based, methods of shipping dangerous goods were time-consuming and relied on many people in the process understanding the cargo and its handling requirements. There could be catastrophic consequences to getting the answers wrong to important questions like: Which goods are actually classified as dangerous goods? Can they be shipped together safely in a container? What packaging do they need? and Where should they be stowed in the ship?
When Exis began in 1987, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, produced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), existed only in book format and the widespread use of digital solutions was not prevalent in the shipping industry. After the first digital dangerous goods list database was developed by programmers at Exis, basic look-up tools for international multimodal regulations followed to speed up the booking process.
By the 1990s Exis had its own digital solutions with the ability to find the correct UN numbers or proper shipping name, perform packaging and segregation/stowage checks and produce documentation that could be used in the transport chain. Exis continued to innovate and by 2010 Hazcheck Validation Systems had been implemented by nine of the top 10 container lines. In parallel, Exis’ IMDG Code e-learning training tool was also launched in line with IMO’s new mandatory IMDG Code training guidelines.
Digital solutions produced by Exis have allowed businesses to keep pace with the advances in container shipping. When Exis was formed in 1987, the largest container ships, restricted in size by the Panama Canal, carried around 4,600 TEU, now ultra-large ships with capacity of almost 24,000 TEU can be regularly spotted at terminals. In 1980, 102m tonnes of cargo was being carried by container ships globally. By 2017, this figure had jumped to 1.8m million tonnes, an increase of nearly 1,700 per cent.
Exis does not stand still, seeking out new collaborations and driving through initiatives to help with continued safety improvements in containerisation. In 2011 the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) was launched, a major industry collaboration involving five of the top container lines to analyse global operational information on all cargo- and container-related accidents. It now has 17 shipping line members, representing more than 85 per cent of the world’s container slot capacity. Exis, now a CINS advisory member, developed the CINSnet database that drives the CINS initiative.
Exis also contributed to a new industry-accepted safety system for the stowage of dangerous goods on containerships, prepared by CINS and led by Maersk, following the fire on Maersk Honam. Exis Technologies was part of the working group and gave input focused around its detailed knowledge of the IMDG Code Dangerous Goods List, stowage requirements and categorising specific UN numbers into risk zones. Hazcheck Risk Zone data, comprising UN number, packing group and risk zones, is now available as a free resource to the container shipping industry.
In 2018 Exis became part of New York-based container/vessel cargo surveying and inspection company National Cargo Bureau (NCB) with the joint mission of Safety of Life and Cargo at Sea. NCB’s Dangerous Goods White Paper, launched in 2020, addresses the need to look at how the industry can join together to implement a robust approach to dangerous goods shipping and to avoid the carriage of undeclared and mis-declared dangerous goods. Statistics from the TT Club suggest that, on average, a containership is involved in a major fire every 60 days. This isn’t being helped by the fact that cargo is deliberately declared incorrectly to save cost or time. Larger vessels are most affected, as some ships carry more than 1,000 containers with dangerous goods on any given voyage.
NCB and Exis have been working on ground-breaking new tools over the past four years to help with the dilemmas that containerisation can bring. Hazcheck Detect, the API-based cargo screening solution launched in 2020 is already in use with a number of large container lines. It scans all booking details for keywords and creates an industry library to enable suspicious bookings to be identified that may be mis-declared or undeclared dangerous goods. Cargo screening allows non-compliant cargo to be detected within seconds rather than days. Last-minute changes to bookings, declarations, Bills of Lading and shipping instructions can be picked up in real time. This immediate response avoids such cargo from being loaded onto a ship, thereby avoiding the risk of fires at sea.
NEXT ON THE LIST
As the shipment of dangerous goods is complex, Blockchain may be a good way to increase safety in the maritime sector. A key proposition for using Blockchain is digital traceability of dangerous goods through the supply chain, increasing security and transparency. In 2018 Exis took part in the misdeclaration of dangerous goods blockchain project, Maritime Blockchain Labs, led by Bloc with the support of Lloyd’s Register Foundation. There are still challenges to be addressed with the use of Blockchain, but if players in the supply chain are willing and able to share their data in the future it could play a big part in the safety of containerised shipments, digitising diverse dangerous goods documentation, automating transmission and updating information.
Exis can now collect large amounts of data from all its Hazcheck tools. In 2021, the Hazcheck tools for declared dangerous goods were performing more than 400,000 validations per month, representing 82 per cent of the world’s containerised dangerous goods traffic, and picking up around 4,000 rejections per month.
The Hazcheck Inspections used by NCB in its container inspection database provide more than 100,000 data records, constantly growing. Hazcheck Detect is screening more than 15 million shipments per month. These data sets along with machine learning and AI techniques will be able to help improve the detection of invalid and dangerous shipments by creating new rules and search terms.
In 2022 Exis is looking forward to another year of delivering advancements in industry solutions because there is no standing still in the ever-changing world of containerisation.