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Undeclared DG: Hide and seek – Hazardous Cargo Bulletin

January 1 / 2020    12:00 pm

Concern over the increasing number of containership fires has prompted further work to help detect undeclared dangerous goods

National Cargo Bureau (NCB) and its subsidiary Exis Technologies have created a cargo screening service to address the problem of mis-declared and undeclared dangerous goods in the containerised logistics chain. The new industry solution, Hazcheck Detect, which will be officially launched in early 2020, complements NCB’s existing cargo inspection operation.

NCB president Ian Lennard says: “We are delighted to be working with Exis on this ground-breaking project. Ship fires are an ongoing problem and we hope this new service will help to stop misdeclared and undeclared goods making it onto the ships in the first place.”

Hazcheck Detect is a cargo screening solution that can scan all booking and shipping instruction details for key words, validate against rules and highlight suspicious shipments to identify misdeclared and non-declared dangerous goods. It will be possible for container vessel operators to share information with partner lines to avoid the issue of shippers moving their undeclared consignments to unprepared carriers.

Hazcheck Detect is designed to look for undeclared dangerous goods by searching for suspicious terms, while also looking at declared dangerous goods that may be misleading. To do this, it uses a standard library of data on proper shipping names, substance variants and technical names. Users are invited to share their own standard libraries in order to enhance the ability of the system to detect non-compliant shipments.

Hazcheck Detect will be delivered as a software-as-a-service solution, hosted and maintained by Exis Technologies. It will include a web user interface so that users can enter and maintain their own data search terms, keywords and rules.


It is estimated that around 10 per cent of the 60 million or so packed containers moved each year contain declared dangerous goods – though this may be an under-estimate. The existing Hazcheck system, used to verify that declared dangerous goods comply with the provisions of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, already find that around 1 per cent of ostensibly compliant shipments do not meet the requirements; NCB’s physical inspection programme finds a non-compliance rate of 9 per cent. Put together, that equates to a significant number of containers that present an unknown risk during transport by sea.

NCB quotes US Department of Transportation (DOT) findings, which indicate that the most commonly shipped undeclared hazardous materials include: agricultural materials (ammonium nitrate fertilisers, pesticides, etc); refrigerant gases; various automotive items, such as air bag inflators, batteries, fuel, etc; camping and outdoor equipment; fire extinguishers; medical oxygen tanks; pool maintenance chemicals (especially chlorine compounds); adhesives, sealants and tars used in the construction industry; motorised vehicles, tools and equipment; and a range of household goods such as aerosols, perfumes, fireworks, paints, drain cleaners, lighters, and so on.

Any and all of these products have the potential to start or contribute to a fire on board a vessel; mistakes can be made during the declaration process, or shippers may deliberately not declare cargo as dangerous in order to save time and money. Even if the cargo is properly declared, mistakes can be made in the packing and stowage of cargo. And unless each container is opened and inspected, there is no way to know whether the cargo is safe for transport.

The launch of Hazcheck Detect will be another tool that shipowners can use to reduce the risk to their ships, their crew and the environment.

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