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January 31, 2006

Industry group recommends inert gas for smaller tankers

An inter-industry group that has been investigating a number of explosions on smaller chemical and products tankers is recommending that IMO amending SOLAS to provide for the application of inert gas to new oil tankers of less than 20,000 DWT and to new chemical tankers.

If the IMO member states wish to consider the application of inert gas to existing ships, the group suggests that this should be based, among other things, on a formal safety assessment (FSA) study.

The industry partners in the group say they would participate fully in any such studies.

The Inter-industry Group (IIG) was invited to report the results of its work by the IMOšs Maritime Safety Committee and has recently submitted its conclusions and recommendations to MSC 81, scheduled for May 2006.

The group says that, while the limited availability of casualty investigation reports hindered its work, the data it received from various sources was sufficient to enable it to reach a number of conclusions.

Incident analysis revealed that the majority of incidents involved ships under 20,000 dwt while tank cleaning, venting or gas freeing at sea. It did not identify as a cause for the fires and explosions any technical or operational factors not previously recognized. The failure by personnel to follow established cargo operation guidelines and procedures, at both shipboard and at management level, was the primary cause of the incidents. While manning levels do not appear to be a material factor, questions were raised in some cases regarding crew competence and training.

Establishing and maintaining tank atmospheres has been shown to be problematic and has been a contributory factor in many incidents.

The provision of inert gas to product tankers under 20,000 dwt and chemical tankers, is technically feasible. However there are safety, operational, environmental and other implications.

The industry has established a human factors task group to enhance efforts to identify and address factors influencing procedural compliance on board tankers. The International Chamber of Shipping publication "Safety in Chemical Tankers" is one vehicle for producing general guidance and this is being updated to promote best industry guidelines and practices. The human factors task group will also seek to raise awareness of the causes, dangers and potential consequences of static electricity.

Although the prime cause of the incidents investigated was a failure to follow procedures and a number of the incidents occurred during periods when a vessel was incorrectly assumed to be gas-free, the group has made its recommendations on inert gas as an additional safety measure.

The group is recommending that IMO takes note of the complexity inherent in operational procedures on chemical tankers. It also recommends that international safety standards be developed in relation to the design and operation of in-tank pumps. IACS (the International Association of Classification Societies) says it is willing to develop a Unified Requirement on this subject, which has the support of industry.

The Inter Industry Group comprises CEFIC (the European Chemical industries Council), IACS, IAPH (the International Association of Ports and Harbors), ICS (the International Chamber of Shipping), INTERTANKO (the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners), IPTA (the International Parcel Tankers Association) and OCIMF (the Oil Companies International Marine Forum).

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