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Liquefaction of unprocessed mineral ores - Iron ore fines and nickel ore

Liquefaction of mineral ores, resulting in cargo shift and loss of stability, has been a major cause of marine casualties for many decades. Recent problems, already leading to several total losses this year, have primarily involved the carriage of unprocessed natural ores such as iron ore fines from India and nickel ore from Indonesia, the Philippines and New Caledonia. The main cause of casualties and near misses is the poor compliance of shippers with the testing and certification requirements that are designed to ensure that cargoes are loaded only if the moisture content is sufficiently low to avoid liquefaction occurring during the voyage.

Principles of liquefaction

Cargoes that are at risk of liquefaction are those containing at least some fine particles and some moisture,although they need not be visibly wet in appearance. The most widelyknown cargoes with this hazard are mineral concentrates, although many other cargoes can also liquefy, such as fluorspar, certain grades of coal, pyrites, millscale, sinter/pellet feed, etc. Although they often look dry in appearance at the time of loading, these cargoes contain moisture in between the particles. At the time of loading, the cargoes are usually in their solid state, where the particles are in direct contact with each other and, therefore, there is physical strength of resistance to shear strains. During ocean transport, cargoes are exposed to agitation in the form of engine vibrations, ship’s motions and wave impact, resulting in compaction of the cargo. This leads to a reduction of the spaces between the particles. If compaction is such that there is more water inside the cargo than there are spaces between the particles, the water pressure inside the cargo can rise sharply and press the particles apart safe sailing conditions for a cargo with unsafe moisture content. Liquefaction can occur unpredictably even in relatively calm conditions on a vessel at anchorage or proceeding at low speed.It is for these reasons that SOLAS and the IMSBC Code incorporate provisions intended to ensure that only cargoes with sufficiently low inherent moisture content to avoid liquefaction are loaded. Strict adherence to these provisions is the only safe way of carrying these types of cargoes.

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