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Guidelines for the safe carriage of Nickel Ore in the Philippines by Standard Club

Pandiman Philippines Inc. is very proud to contribute to the article with regards to the Philippines.

The Philippines

Nickel ore is used to produce stainless steel and is very much a part of modern life. China is the largest importer and the Philippines provides up to 30m WMT (wet metric ton) of this demand a year. Many articles have been written on the danger of liquefaction from nickel ore; however, the practical issue that should be borne in mind with nickel ore cargo loaded from the Philippines is that the cargo is inherently wet. Whatever the reason, the local climate has changed from 25 years ago, when there was a clear distinction between the dry and rainy season. Today, in the areas of the southern Philippines where nickel ore is loaded, it rains all year round.

Surigao and the surrounding islands are the most popular locations for loading nickel ore. The port of Surigao, a small provincial port, has no loading facilities. The actual loading will most likely take place at Adlay, Carrascal, over 40 nautical miles away. This can lead to confusion, especially when masters are expecting a port with a pier and loading facilities. The waters around this area are subject to strong rip tides. Several loaded vessels have run aground in Dinagat Sound, so masters of loaded vessels should navigate with extreme caution and consider a more prudent departure to open ocean to the east.

These areas of nickel ore production are in extremely remote areas, where the mining is open cast and the nickel ore is stockpiled on the shore and thereby exposed to the elements. The nickel ore is transferred from the stockpiles by barge to a vessel normally anchored a mile or more offshore. Due to there being no actual facilities, the trade utilises Handymax size vessels, which can self-load the cargo via ship’s grabs. A normal shipment is 55,000mt. Two decades ago, in the dry season, this could be loaded in seven days. However, with the change in climate, the average time is now three weeks or more.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that the cargo certificates remain valid throughout the loading process. If rainfall occurs prior to or during loading, the master should request that new moisture content tests are carried out. If there are any concerns or doubts about the validity of the moisture content, the master should ensure that loading operations are suspended until newly updated information about the cargo has been received.

Length of voyage should never be a defining factor in deciding if a cargo is suitable to carry. It should also be remembered that the IMSBC code clearly states the limitations of the can test, and even a satisfactory can test does not mean that a cargo of nickel ore complies with the IMSBC code and is safe to carry. The human eye is also insufficient in determining whether a cargo complies with the IMSBC code. The only way to ensure that the cargo is compliant is through analysis carried out under correct protocols. Comparisons of certificates issued by the local mines with independent analysis of samples undertaken abroad show a significant difference, with errors of between 8% and 10% in FMP (flow moisture point).

In 2019, nearly half of the 31 registered nickel ore mines in the Philippines were suspended either due to administrative or environmental issues. With the ban on nickel ore export from 1 January 2020 in Indonesia, this will further strain the Philippines to fill demand. Regarding the reliance on certificates issued by local mines, on every occasion when we have sent samples for independent analysis due to concerns about the moisture content, the mines’ certificates have failed.

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