China explains new, stricter liquefaction regulations

The ill fated Bulk Jupiter. Credit: Gary McLeod

China has strengthened its dry bulk cargo regulations over concerns about liquefaction. China’s Ministry of Transport has recently circulated a bulletin explaining its decision and detailing what the heightened rules mean for vessel operators.

In effect, the new regulations give Chinese maritime authorities the power to redirect vessels, stop or suspend work, and prevent a ship’s entry to or exit from ports on grounds of liquefaction concerns. The government’s new guidance was produced last week while the regulations themselves were introduced in January and took effect in March.

There have been a string of fatal and high-profile cargo liquefaction incidents in recent years, most notably that of Bulk Jupiter, a supramax carrier that was carrying 46,400 tonnes of bauxite when it foundered in the South China Sea in 2015. Of the 19 crew members on board, only one survived.

Liquefaction can occur when an increase in water pressure makes solid bulk cargoes turn from a solid state into a liquid state, often causing a vessel to tilt and capsize. It can happen during the loading process, or when cargo is agitated by the movement of the sea or a ship’s engine. Many common bulk cargoes – including iron ore fines, nickel ore, and various mineral concentrates – are examples of materials that may liquefy.

China’s new regulations require the moisture content of dry bulk cargoes to be sampled and tested before shipments take place. In turn, port operators are obligated to take measures during loading and unloading to stop moisture content from increasing.

Finally, the rules also stipulate that ships carrying cargoes with liquefaction potential measure gas concentrations during transport, as some of these materials are known to release toxic gases. Crew members must, in turn, be trained and equipped appropriately.