Cargo safety at sea

Shipping has always facilitated the transport and exchange of goods between different regions, countries and continents.

Today, the transport of goods by cargo ship is more important than ever for global trade. In fact, 90% of all goods traded worldwide are transported by sea. There are many different kinds of these goods, as they include those transported by tankers (e.g. oil and gas), bulk goods carried on bulk carriers (e.g. grain and ore), and goods moved in multimodal containers.

To ensure that these goods safely reach their destination and that transporting them does not present any danger to either people or the environment, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued various regulations on how different types of cargo should be transported and secured. 

The most important international rules for the transport of goods by sea are:

The CSS Code

The seven chapters of the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code) include specifications on how cargo should be secured in containers to be safely transported by sea as well as on how semi- and non-standardised cargo should be secured. For example, the latter includes project cargo, such as large pieces of machinery, logs and cars. 

For all these different types of cargo, the SOLAS convention also prescribes the preparation of a ship-specific cargo securing manual, which must take into account the special rules of the CSS Code. The cargo securing manual must also be reviewed and approved by the vessel’s flag state.

The CTU Code

The Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code) is a guideline for the safe stuffing of containers. The code contains instructions on how certain types of cargo should be safely stowed in containers. Among other things, these specifications are meant to prevent the goods in the container from moving around uncontrollably during transport, such as due to rough seas. 

The IMDG Code

The International Maritime Code for Dangerous Goods (IMDG Code) regulates the handling and stowage of packed hazardous cargo. Each substance classified as a type of dangerous cargo under the IMDG Code is assigned a specific number known as a “UN number”. For each of these UN numbers, the code provides precise specifications for the type of hazard. In addition, the IMDG Code divides the hazardous substances into various classes of dangerous goods. For example, Class 1 includes all goods that are explosive.

For stowage on board, the IMDG Code contains a range of precise instructions, such as on which dangerous goods may not be stowed near each other, on whether certain minimum distances must be observed, and on which substances may only be stowed on or below deck. 

The IMSBC Code

The International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargos Code (IMSBC Code) contains rules on safely transporting bulk commodities on ships. The code’s specifications are designed to minimise risks when transporting bulk cargoes, such as reduced vessel stability, liquefaction of cargo during transport, or fire caused by chemical hazards. 

The IBC Code

The International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code) is a binding set of rules for the safe carriage of noxious liquids and hazardous chemicals in bulk (chemicals carried in tank containers, for example, fall under the IMDG Code). 

The IBC Code contains, among other things, precise specifications on how to design, build and equip ships intended for the bulk transport of dangerous liquids and chemicals. In its specifications, the code distinguishes between three different types of vessels. Types 1, 2 and 3 are respectively for transporting chemical products with "very severe", "appreciably severe" and "sufficiently severe" environmental and safety hazards. The strictness of the regulations applied to each type corresponds with the degree of danger.