Industry group study on incidents of explosions on chemical and product tankers

The Inter-industry Group (“IIG”), (comprising CEFIC, IACS, IAPH, ICS, INTERTANKO, IPTA and OCIMF – for full names see below), which was invited by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee to report the results of its work on investigating a number of explosions on smaller chemical and products tankers, has recently submitted its conclusions and recommendations to the 81st session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 81), scheduled for May 2006 (click here to view).  

Data provided to the IIG by the owners/operators of the vessels involved was of variable quantity and quality, although the Group felt that some value was derived from all the data received. Despite MSC’s invitation to the relevant Flag Administrations to provide further information from their casualty investigations, little new information had been provided to the IIG. But while the limited availability of casualty investigation reports hindered the work of the IIG, the data received from various sources was sufficient to enable a number of conclusions to be reached. 


Incident analysis revealed inter alia that the majority of incidents involved ships under 20,000 dwt while tank cleaning, venting or gas freeing at sea. It did not identify as a cause for the fires and explosions any technical or operational factors not previously recognised. The failure by personnel to follow established cargo operation guidelines and procedures, at both shipboard and at management level, was the primary cause of these incidents. While manning levels appear not to be a material factor, questions were raised in some cases regarding crew competence and training.  

Specifically, establishing and maintaining tank atmospheres has been shown to be problematic and has been a contributory factor in many of these incidents. The provision of inert gas to product tankers under 20,000 dwt and chemical tankers, is technically feasible. However a number of safety, operational, environmental and other implications have been identified in association with such provision. 

The report on the analysis of these incidents is being submitted as an Information paper in continuation of the IIG’s report to MSC. 

Industry measures 

The industry has established a ‘Human Factors’ task group to enhance efforts to identify and address factors influencing procedural compliance on board tankers. As an early initiative the IIG has identified the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) publication “Safety in Chemical Tankers” as one vehicle for producing general guidance and this is being updated to promote best industry guidelines and practices. This task group will also seek to raise awareness of the causes, dangers and potential consequences of static electricity.  

Prior to the formation of the IIG the co-authors of the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) (International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Oil Companies’ International Marine Forum

(OCIMF)] had begun a review of the guide. This review has been completed and amendments to the text include enhanced guidance with regard to safe cargo operations. 


Although the prime cause of the incidents was a failure to follow procedures and a number of the incidents occurred during periods when a vessel was incorrectly assumed to be gas-free, the IIG nevertheless recommends that, as an additional safety measure, the IMO Committee gives consideration to amending SOLAS to provide for the application of inert gas to new oil tankers of less than 20,000 DWT and to new chemical tankers.  

If the IMO member states wish to consider the application of inert gas to existing ships, the IIG would suggest that this should be based on the principles of Resolution A.900 (21) including a formal safety assessment (FSA) study. The industry partners in the IIG have also confirmed their commitment to participate fully in any such studies. 

In considering the above, the IIG would recommend that the IMO takes note of the complexity inherent in operational procedures on chemical tankers. Further, the IIG recommends that international safety standards be developed in relation to the design and operation of in-tank pumps. IACS has expressed its willingness to develop a Unified Requirement on this subject, which has the support of industry.  

CEFIC: The European Chemical industries Council

IACS: The international Association of Classification Societies

IAPH: The International Association of Ports and Harbours

ICS: The International Chamber of Shipping

INTERTANKO: The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners

IPTA: The International Parcel Tankers Association

OCIMF: The Oil Companies International Marine Forum 

Contact: Howard Snaith