2021 DG Symposium speaker Richard Masters: What DG pros can learn from maritime incidents

Two maritime incidents in 2021 highlight a fact well-known to most Dangerous Goods professionals—that one relatively small lapse can trigger large scale negative consequences.

At the 2021 Dangerous Goods Symposium, maritime Dangerous Goods veteran Richard Masters will discuss the Ever Given Suez Canal crash and the catastrophic fire aboard the X-Press Pearl. Other than these two isolated incidents involving container ships, what do they have in common?

Like a lot of freak incidents, it’s a set of circumstances that stack up,” says Masters. “None of those circumstances on their own would cause the problem. Then you get a load of those circumstances, all lined up in a row, and it’s like the domino theory—one thing knocks the next domino over.”

Here’s a quick preview of Richard’s session: “Container Shipping—The Year So Far.”

The Suez Canal crash and the value of good judgement

On March 23, the Ever Given was 13th in a convoy moving north through the Suez Canal. With 40 mph winds reducing visibility and impairing the ship’s ability to steer, it veered off course and crashed into the side of the canal. With a 400-meter-long ship stuck diagonally across the canal, ship traffic from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean was completely blocked for six days—completely severing the link between China and the European ports,

Thousands of containers were delayed, at a cost estimated at $400 million per hour. What happened?

Masters emphasizes that “The data recordings from the bridge and conversation between the captain and the pilots were all seized by the Suez Canal Authority, so we don’t know what actually happened or what was said at the time.”

However, we do know that four local ports had closed because of the high winds, and at least one ship was reported to have declined to enter the canal. Yet, Masters points out, “There is a general fact about shipping—ship owners will always press the captain into carrying on. Keep going if you can.”

As if Dangerous Goods pros needed one, the Ever Given crash is yet another lesson in the value of good judgement.

The X-Press Pearl fire—a preventable hazmat incident?

On May 20, a small fire broke out aboard the X-Press Pearl, a brand new 1,486 TEU feeder ship connecting Singapore with smaller ports around the Indian Ocean. When crews could not contain the fire, it spread below decks and caused a massive explosion that destroyed the ship within days.

We know Dangerous Goods were on board. Was this a preventable hazmat incident?

Again, Masters cautions that investigations are ongoing, so we can’t verify exactly what happened. That said, we do know that, on May 11, the crew reportedly noticed that a container on deck believed to contain nitric acid was leaking. Masters points out, “If you look at the image of the ship prior to the fire, you can see what appears to be brown smoke that would be consistent with nitric acid reacting with the timber floor of the container.”

We also understand from reports that the captain reportedly asked for the leaking container to be removed during scheduled calls at Port Hamid and Hazira, before the fire broke out outside the port at Colombo.

If a ship finds it’s got leaking Dangerous Goods in a container as it goes into a port, it surely shouldn’t be allowed to leave that port with the container still leaking Dangerous Goods,” Masters says. “Which is what is alleged to have happened twice.”

More facts will emerge in time. Meanwhile, Masters says, “The interesting thing about the X-Press Pearl is that it all happened in slow motion—from the beginnings of a small outbreak of chemical leakages on the deck, to smoke coming out of the container, to the total destruction of the ship 14 days later.”

To hear more from Masters on the Ever Given and X-Press Pearl incidents, sign up for the DG Symposium!

One fun thing to know about Richard

“I was once in my youth persuaded to drive in a demolition derby. After being bashed around the track a few times I was unceremoniously stuffed into a safety barrier and my race was over. I survived in one piece but decided this was not a good career move and there were better ways of participating in the transport industry.”

The 2021 DG Symposium

“Container Shipping—The Year So Far” is just one of the many virtual sessions you’ll want to experience during the 2021 DG Symposium, which kicks off September 13th.  This year’s event gives you free access to the biggest, most comprehensive line-up of Dangerous Goods experts we’ve ever presented. Here’s a partial list:

  • A top DG trainers’ panel
  • Domestic and international regulatory updates
  • A new session on DOT Audits
  • Updates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • “Convince and Convert” for DG trainers
  • Expert advice on “Shipping Damaged/Defective/Recalled Lithium Batteries”
  • And the always-popular Lithium Battery Panel

All these presentations will feature live Q & A sessions, so you’ll have a chance to pick the experts’ brains on the topics that matter the most to your hazmat shipping operation.

And remember, this is just a preliminary list. We’re adding new topics and speakers every week!

This year’s Symposium, like last year’s will be hosted on the DG Exchange. To join these sessions live (or watch them on-demand later), you’ll need to be a DG Exchange member. If you haven’t already, you can set up a free account there in just minutes.

Don’t miss the Dangerous Goods event of the year—join us September 13th at the 2021 DG Symposium!

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