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Falschdeklarationen in der Gefahrgutlogistik Titel

A pernicious trend: false declarations in dangerous goods logistics

The transport of dangerous goods requires great care in quality management and a maximum sense of responsibility from everyone involved in tasks in this area. This starts with proper dangerous goods classification and continues with safe packaging, labeling, documentation, safe loading and reliable transportation with selected subcontractors.

The risks that can arise from the smallest errors and carelessness at any point in the complex logistics chain are considerable and can cause enormous damage to people and the environment – on land, at sea and in the air.

The number of accidents in container shipping is increasing

The number of total losses in container shipping has decreased in recent years, as has the number of major air disasters, but unfortunately, fires on ships and in container storage facilities have been increasing in recent years. Dangerous goods are often involved. This often has disastrous consequences for the crews or workforces and for the environment. Two recent examples:
  • In early June, more than 50 people died in a major fire at a container depot in Sitakunda near Chittagong. Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously. Firefighters had tried to extinguish hydrogen peroxide-filled containers with water instead of foam. In doing so, they triggered an explosion that hurled several containers 200 meters through the air. According to previous findings, the containers were not UN-approved and were also incorrectly labeled. (Source)
  • In March, a container caught fire while being loaded at the Port of San Pedro Bay in LA/Long Beach. The bills of lading indicated “synthetic resins” as the cargo. However, the container actually contained used lithium-ion batteries, which are dangerous goods with a high fire hazard.

If the containers on a ship had caught fire, it would probably have inevitably led to an even greater disaster. The size and design of modern container ships make firefighting extremely difficult.
Entwicklung Containerschiffe
Containerschiffe sind in den letzten Jahren immer größer geworden.

Fires often start unnoticed in individual containers and then quickly spread over a wide area. Firefighting capabilities are difficult anyway due to the confined spaces. If this is compounded by an incorrect declaration of the containers and the associated incorrect stowage location on board, as well as an incorrect approach to firefighting, the disaster can no longer be avoided.

False declarations are a trend

Unfortunately, the number of false declarations and the resulting accidents have increased dramatically worldwide in recent months. There are several reasons for this. The global Corona pandemic and the war in Ukraine have caused significant disruptions to logistics chains. As a result, the workload for airlines, shipowners as well as logistics service providers has increased significantly due to planning uncertainty and the additional shortage of skilled workers.

But of course, time and again, companies also try to simply save time and money by declaring dangerous goods incorrectly or not at all. Peregrine Storrs-Fox, Risk Management Director at TT Club, estimates that around ten percent of all containers shipped worldwide today contain cargo declared as dangerous goods. However, he suspects that in addition, undeclared dangerous goods are transported in a further five percent of all containers.

High penalties for false declaration

Although the problem of misdeclaration primarily affects ocean freight, it also affects air freight and intermodal shipments. The transport companies, especially the major shipping companies, have now responded. They are increasingly carrying out comprehensive checks on dangerous goods declarations. If the documents are incorrect, unilateral contractual penalties of up to 30,000 euros can be imposed (“mis-declaration fee”). These penalties are often incurred for even minor deviations and are non-negotiable due to the market power of the shipping companies.

One of the pioneers in introducing controls and penalties was Singapore-based Ocean Network Express (ONE), the seventh largest shipping company in the world. It now fines customers who misreport the weight of their containers. Incorrect weight information can affect ship stability and has led to accidents on large container ships several times in the past, according to investigations by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS). “The introduction of this penalty for misrepresentation will increase operational safety for all involved in cargo handling, both ashore and on board vessels,” ONE said, according to industry service Splash.

As a dangerous goods officer for the Leschaco Group, I have great sympathy for these controls, because in the event of an accident, the damage to people and the environment is catastrophic.

Especially in times when logistics chains are facing major challenges, we at Leschaco want to continue to do everything we can to meet our high quality standards – not only to avoid penalties for incorrectly completed declarations, but also to ensure that hazardous goods are transported safely for people and the environment. Quality and safety are our top priorities.

Brennende Container
Falschdeklarationen führen häufig zu Containerbränden.

So what to look out for?

  • Mindfulness and control: It’s about error prevention. Even with a heavy workload, no dangerous goods-related information in customer orders should be overlooked. Here we provide additional safety with our dangerous goods specialists. Each shipping file is controlled and released.
  • Technical competence: We are supported by state-of-the-art technologies in accomplishing these tasks. The declaration of dangerous goods is becoming increasingly complex. No wonder, when we consider that today we have to deal with an unmanageable number of different substances in dangerous goods logistics, which is increasing every day. For this reason, our employees who deal with these issues are constantly undergoing further training and education.
  • Identification with the customer: Large and globally active service providers such as Leschaco provide their services in teams of experts with different areas of expertise. Colleagues from customer service, sales, procurement, scheduling, documentation, finance and other departments work hand in hand on one customer and one order. Therefore, it is still important that everyone fully identifies with the customer. Customer focus is required at every point in the process. Each and every one of us is jointly responsible for success in the interests of the customer. We convey this in the corporate culture of an owner-managed company.
  • Self-control and overall responsibility: Everyone is responsible for quality in their own area. Nevertheless, everyone must look beyond their own area of activity. If an error is detected in the process, this error must be eliminated immediately. There is no shifting of responsibility. Separate responsibility – joint responsibility!

Quality management is only possible when technological competence and an adequate corporate culture come together. As a dangerous goods officer, I am firmly convinced of this.

Illustrations © Chris Mirek Freeman – and Surasak –

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