Between 2010 and 2013, six vessels that loaded nickel ore in Indonesia sank during their voyages to China, resulting in the loss of life of 81 seafarers. The cause of each casualty is thought to have been due to liquefaction of the cargo affecting the stability of the vessel, resulting in the vessel capsizing very quickly, sometimes within a matter of minutes. For these reasons, nickel ore has been described as ‘the world’s most dangerous cargo’.
Nickel ore is a cargo that may liquefy if the Moisture Content (MC) exceeds the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML). The point at which the cargo can begin to act like a liquid is when the Flow Moisture Point (FMP) is reached: a theoretical figure set at 90% of the FMP to create a 10% safety margin.
Since 2011, the American Club have issued several Circulars and Alerts concerning the carriage of nickel ore and other bulk cargoes that are prone to liquefaction.
In recent years, much research has been carried out and regulations have been updated and amended, particularly the designation of nickel ore as a Group A cargo under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code. In January 2014, the Indonesian government banned the export of nickel ore and the Philippines are now clamping down on the nickel ore mining industry due to environmental concerns. There continue to be incidents of nickel ore liquefying onboard ships, whereby remaining a threat of a fatal casualty, particularly with the latest developments affecting the nickel ore mining industry in Indonesia and the Philippines.