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New dry bulk laws were introduced to boost ship-safety, China says

Iron ore fines cargo before (left) and after (right) liquefaction. Picture: Gard "Liquefaction of solid bulk cargoes" January 2014

Beijing has issued a new bulletin explaining why it has beefed up its dry bulk cargo regulations. The new regulations give the Chinese authorities powers to issue stop/suspend work, to redirect vessels and to prevent entry or exit from ports. In addition, there are a variety of small monetary penalties for non-compliance with administrative matters.

Dry bulk cargo can, if wet, liquefy and move around in a ship. That causes a vessel to lose its stability, list and potentially capsize. There have been many dry bulk vessels, such as the dry bulker Black Rose, which was carrying a cargo of iron ore, that have been lost due to dry cargo liquefaction.

Commenting on the new regulations, the Ministry of Transport said that it was necessary to introduce the “Safety Supervision and Administration Regulations for Marine Solid Bulk Goods” [海运固体散装货物安全监督管理规定] in order to strengthen the management of dry bulk transport. A further reason was to translate the international convention, the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code, into domestic law to for standardization purposes.

The Ministry stated that the main safety risk from dry cargo liquefaction is the loss of ship stability because of wind, waves and other such forces. However, as wind and wave forces are “relatively small” in inland waters, the new regulations only apply to dry bulk carrying ships at sea under Chinese jurisdiction.

Jurisdictional issues

Article 2 of the new regulations apply to ships carrying solid bulk cargoes within the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China.

Jurisdiction is a potential flashpoint for conflict given that China claims about 80 percent of the South China Sea. Beijing claims jurisdiction about 2,000 kilometers (about 1,243 miles) away from the mainland down to the “nine-dash line” (a hypothetical border).

Jurisdiction over the South China Sea is important because of the presence of fisheries and the large volumes of oil and gas that the region is believed to contain. And it’s a major shipping lane with vessels of every type and nature, carrying every manner of cargo, crossing the South China Sea on a daily basis.

Professor Leszek Buszynski, a visiting fellow and PhD supervisor with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, provided insight into whether and how the Chinese attempt to enforce their laws in the South China Sea.

It’s all about enforcement

“Over the many years they have attempted to do so,” Buszynski says of Chinese law enforcement action. He refers to actions such as collisions between vessels and cutting cables.

“But they are careful not to push the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] nations closer toward the U.S. Enforcement could have dramatic and negative ramifications,” he explained. Buszynski added that although the Chinese law enforcement agencies would like to enforce Chinese law, they’re unlikely to do so.

“They’re not likely to enforce the law [“Safety Supervision and Administration Regulations for Marine Solid Bulk Goods] immediately. Law in China is something to be aimed at or hoped for. They won’t enforce it immediately, they will tend to hope people will become weary over time,” he said.

Buszynski drew an analogy with the Air Defense Identification Zone that was declared in late 2013 over most of the East China Sea and over contested waters.   Under the rules of that zone, foreign aircraft are, among other things, supposed to file flight plans, respond to radio queries, follow Chinese air traffic instructions and so on.

“There was a law in place but the Americans ignored it as did the Japanese. But the law’s still on the books. The Chinese will hope that, eventually, it will be respected,” Buszynski told FreightWaves.

Chinese requirements

According to China’s Safety Supervision and Administration Regulations for Marine Solid Bulk Goods regulations, shippers are required to submit a variety of data to the maritime management agency before entering or leaving a port. Ships and port operators must establish and implement a ship-to-shore safety checklist, jointly write a loading and unloading plan, check and confirm the loading and stowage of cargo and jointly detect and verify possible safety hazards.

The regulations also require that dry bulk cargoes must be sampled and tested for moisture content and limits before shipment or transport. Port operators are obliged to take corresponding measures during storage, loading and unloading to prevent an increase in moisture content.

Finally, as some solid bulk cargoes may release flammable or toxic gases during transport, the regulations require ships carrying such cargoes to measure gas concentrations, have appropriate ventilation, set up safety and emergency systems and train operators appropriately with protective equipment.

The new guidance was produced last week while the new regulations were introduced in January and took effect in March.

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