Rate this article:  

Members and clients may be aware of media reports concerning the recent loss of the vessel BULK JUPITER off Vietnam. On 1 January 2015, the bulk carrier, which was fully laden with bauxite loaded at Kuantan, Malaysia, capsized and sank. Although the cause of the incident has not been identified, concerns exist as to potential liquefaction risks with certain bauxite cargoes.1

Liquefaction of mineral ores resulting in cargo shifting and loss of stability has been a major cause of marine casualties in the last decade. In cargoes loaded with too high a moisture content, liquefaction may occur without warning at any time during the voyage. Some cargoes have liquefied and caused catastrophic shifting of cargo almost immediately upon departure from the load port whilst others have liquefied after several weeks of apparently uneventful sailing.2  

Bauxite is not a cargo one would ordinarily expect to be prone to liquefaction. It is a cargo which normally consists of lumps, with a relatively low moisture content. Due to these typical characteristics, bauxite is listed in the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code as a Group C cargo: a cargo not liable to liquefy. Appendix 1 of the IMSBC Code describes bauxite as a cargo with moisture content between 0% and 10%, with 70%-90% of it consisting of lumps varying in size between 2.5 and 500 mm, and 10%-30% powder.

Bauxite cargoes that do not meet these typical characteristics may not be safe and appropriate checks are recommended before loading. Members and clients are recommended to remain vigilant at all times with bauxite cargoes and to:

  • Carefully review and verify that the cargo declaration issued by the shipper conforms to the requirements of the IMSBC Code, with regard to the description of the cargo, notably the particle size distribution and moisture content.
  • Assess if any of the IMSBC Code properties appear not to be met, e.g. if the cargo predominantly consists of smaller particles and/or possess a high moisture content. The latter could be due to heavy rainfalls or terminal storage conditions. If it is considered that the cargo does not fall under the existing Group C schedule for bauxite, the requirements of section 1.3 of the IMSBC Code covering cargoes not listed in the Code may apply.
  • Perform visual inspections of the cargo prior to and during loading.
  • Carry out a can test as per IMSBC Code Section 8.4. It should be noted, however, that even if samples remain dry following a can test, the moisture content of the material may still exceed the Transportable Moisture Limit (TML). Cargo that fails a can-test should not be loaded and further advice should be sought from Gard before loading.

Where bauxite is to be loaded at terminals in Malaysia, and Members and clients have concerns over the cargo carriage conditions, they are urged to contact Gard for assistance prior to loading. We understand that a vessel which recently loaded bauxite at Kuantan, Malaysia rejected part of the cargo due to failed can tests, and that this cargo was replaced with dry cargo. Mixing wet and dry cargo will not necessarily make the cargo safe and it may be necessary for shippers to re-test the cargo with representative samples.We understand that other vessels having loaded bauxite at Kuantan have reported problems.

1 See Gard Alert: “Brazil - liquefaction of bauxite cargoes” from March 2012.

2 For general advice Members and clients should also refer to the section “Hot Topic – Cargo Liquefaction” on Gard’s website which contains a collection of information and advice concerning liquefaction.