The trouble with Safety Sheets

The TT Club says that the abuse of safety data sheets (SDS) for cargo bookings is “uncomfortably frequent” leading to the view that shipping executives feel “surrounded by criminals”.

The following expose is no less pertinent to Customs risk-profilers.

A recent TT Club claim relating to a fire onboard a ship highlighted a number of issues. The insurance expert argues that differing global format standards and the ease of creating “viable” SDS are only serving to make cargo screening more difficult.

What’s really in the box asks the TT Club.  Photo: Port of Hamburg (Credit - Port Strategy)

What’s really in the box asks the TT Club. Photo: Port of Hamburg (Credit – Port Strategy)

In the claim, a cargo was booked, packed, declared and documented by a shipper as ‘Hookah burner (C.Tablets)’. When the ship caught fire at sea, significant costs were incurred by the ship because of mis-declared cargo, which was in fact activated carbon/charcoal.

Worryingly, when this was investigated further, the shipper had produced two safety data sheets – one was correct, but the other suggested that activated carbon was not considered to be a dangerous good.

TT Club argues that the situation is made far more difficult by the lack of consistency between the various governments about when SDS should be reviewed – Australia stipulates every five years, Canada every three and the EU Regulation recommends checking at “regular intervals”.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, risk management director, TT Club, told Port Strategy: “We’ve identified two [problem]areas – firstly at the point of booking/contracting with a carrier and secondly post event. Conversations with a number of liner shipping companies confirm that the information given at the time of booking/contracting is frequently suspect. In one instance a single SDS had been presented for about 50 different cargoes over a period.”

Although this is an issue between shipper and carrier, which includes forwarders/logistics operators, there is wider issue here for port operators. During an incident, the port may be supplied with SDS in order to respond appropriately – so there is a risk associated with that too.

The advice to freight forwarders, operators and carriers from the Club is to “Be constantly vigilant and question anything that seems strange or suspicious”. The penalties for non-compliance can be severe. Source:


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