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TT Talk – Pack it in!

March 5 / 2014    12:00 pm

While attention, not unreasonably, has centred on the number of containers that fell overboard from ‘Svendborg Maersk’ during extremely heavy weather, it should be recognised that identical forces were exerted on the cargo packed within the containers that remained on board. ICHCA, supported by the TT Club, is launching an awareness campaign under the slogan ‘PACK IT IN!’

While the use of cargo transport units (CTUs) substantially increases the protections afforded to individual cargoes, improper packing works against this and may increase the risk of incidents. There are many people through the entire supply chain who rely on the skill of the packer to prevent this risk, including not just those who are professionally involved in moving or handling the CTU, but also the general public on highways around the world.

How rough can it get at sea?
The majority of CTUs are packed by established shippers who understand the usual stresses and forces to which the CTUs – and their contents – are subjected in transit, whether by land or by sea. The unfortunate reality, however, for the remainder is that the appearance of an ISO freight container is deceptive; the assumption is that the properties of simple containment are sufficient to withstand anything that may occur during transport. While the press and coastal authorities have been exercised by the units that came away from ‘Svendborg Maersk’ it is worth considering what has been encountered by the cargo that remained on board (not forgetting the trauma suffered by the seafarers in such extreme conditions). Rough calculations serve the purpose where precise details are, of course, unavailable…

It has been reported that the ship rolled 40 degrees. Thus, an outboard container at the top of the stack could have been expected to draw an arc of approximately 56 m. Assuming a roll period of 20 seconds, at an average speed of 20 km/hr, there could have been an average acceleration of 0.23 g. If the roll period were to reduce to 10 seconds, the average acceleration increases to 0.9 g. Such ‘bench’ calculations do not take account of how acceleration changes during a roll, nor that acceleration at the end of the roll to one side and the start of the roll back again may be far greater, depending on the wave formation. It might be sobering that currently ISO Series 1 containers are built to withstand transverse forces of 0.8 g.

This incident serves as a stark reminder for those less used to sea passage in all conditions that the stresses and forces encountered can be extreme. Thus, while the packer needs to have a thorough grounding in how to pack cargo effectively in order to avoid damage through anticipated vagaries of transport, supervisors and management could usefully understand the consequences of not ensuring that suitable information is available or training given to those involved in the process. When something goes wrong, it is easy to compute the direct losses, whether that is the value of the cargo, or – sadly all too often – injury or death caused by shifting or released cargo, alongside damage to the CTU, conveyance and the environment. It is complex to compile the indirect costs of an accident – some aspects, such as disposal and clean-up costs, may be apparent, but many quickly become obscured, regardless of their size. It may almost be possible to contemplate the costs involved in delays in down-stream manufacturing or delivery processes. Other consequential costs, such as management time to bring resolution to customer dissatisfaction, general loss of goodwill or broader reputational damage will generally be disregarded – let alone legal and other costs of investigation and pursuit of contractual rights.

“supervisors and management could usefully understand the consequences of not ensuring that suitable information is available or training given to those involved in the packing process”

Count the cost – then change the culture
This line of reasoning seeks to counter the culture where poor, inadequate or no training of those involved in the process is accepted, and promote access to suitable information and tools that will provide appropriate awareness and understanding of the risks involved in international transport. The CTU Code is positioned to do this and more, additionally explaining issues of planning and responsibilities through the supply chain.

Of course, much information is already available, to which the TT Club and Exis Technologies added the CTUpack e-learning course in January 2014. The Club will collaborate with ICHCA in holding workshops on the subject, under the slogan ‘Pack it in!’, introducing information on how to use the Code, what training packages are available and links to related good practice materials and organisations. Amongst the latter, cargo securing methodologies and solutions, from the likes of Cordstrap, are critical to ensure that the load is secured within the unit; adequate planning and execution for the cargo to be packed and blocked requires effective lashing. While the Code itself will be translated into the main languages of the UN, ICHCA has signalled an intention to develop pictorial representations of the tasks that are key to the safe packing and transport of cargo.

The game-changing challenge
The challenge for anyone seeking to communicate such good practice, let alone the enforcement agencies tasked with maintaining required safety, security or revenue, is reaching those who are in ‘control’ of a given operation. The Achilles’ heel of the ubiquitous box – the proven and adaptable means of moving almost all types of cargo remarkably efficiently around the globe – is that what is inside is as hidden from view as the players from one end of the supply chain to the other. Every player in the supply chain is required to trust those before and be trustworthy to those after; each link needs to test the veracity of those adjacent to be confident in fulfilling what’s expected.

“what is inside the ubiquitous box is as hidden from view as the players from one end of the supply chain to the other”  

All stakeholders in the supply chain have a key role to play – as one senior representative of a maritime administration summed up, it has to be hoped that the industry will work together on this and get its ‘house in order’. Perhaps it is time to initiate a broader analysis of which stakeholders – including insurers – can wield the most effective ‘stick’ or ‘carrot’. The debate about improving safe and secure packing will need to stretch far from the UN bodies if the industry is to accept the challenge.

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