Handle with care

The delivery of hazardous products is governed by specific requirements and regulations. Petrochemicals Middle East examines the sharp end of the supply chain.
Handle with care
Peter Richards, group director and GM of Gulftainer.
By Abdelghani Henni
Wed 13 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

The delivery of hazardous products is governed by specific requirements and regulations. Petrochemicals Middle East examines the sharp end of the supply chain.

One of the main characteristics of oil-derivative products is that they are considered hazardous materials, which have the potential and likelihood to cause environmental or human harm if they are not handled properly.

The life cycle of hazardous products goes from process planning and the development of new products through manufacturing, transporting, distribution, use, disposal, cleanup, and remediation. Throughout this whole cycle, any mishandling could result in a disaster.

There is a general consensus between specialists about the definition of the hazardous products and their negative impact on the surrounding environment. "Any item or substance that places at risk the public, animals, and the environment, when it's being transported or moved, is considered as a hazardous product," says Omar Abdullah Al Shamsi, logistics and trading manager at Emarat.

"Our company transports and trades mainly jet A1 fuel, gas oil, gasoline, fuel oil, lube oil and LPG. Every one of these products is classified as hazardous cargo," he adds.

There are many laws and regulations that define and govern these hazardous cargoes. These regulations are generally administered by environmental agencies, safety and health administrations, and transportation departments. "Transporting by road tankers must comply with civil defence rules and regulations," says Waddah Ghanem Bani Hashim, group EHSQ compliance manager at Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), which deals with a number of hazardous products in Dubai.

On the international side, there are additional rules that govern transportation of hazardous products, whether by sea or by road. "Regulations related to shipping these cargoes by sea are MARPOL Annex 2 (Marine Pollution), the IBC code (International Code for the Construction and Equipment of ships Carrying Dangerous Chemical in Bulk), and the IMDG code (International Marine Dangerous Goods)," says Ashita Khanna, chemical tanker analyst at the UK-based Drewry Shipping Consultants."Products such as gasoline, gasoil, fuel oil, and other products must be transported by oil or petrochemical product tankers, which must be classified as IMO 2(chemical tanker or oil tanker)," she adds.

It is very rare that companies transport hazardous products by air, mainly because of weight considerations and the cost of transporting  items via this method is often higher. "Emarat doesn't transport any hazardous cargoes by air," says Al Shamsi.

Whenever a hazardous product is transported, containers should be labelled to identify the hazard that could result from this product in order to take the necessary safety precautions. There are many dangers involved if these products are not labelled or packaged correctly. "If these products are in direct contact with environment, they are going to cause harm; at the very least, the hydrocarbon gas emissions damage the ozone layer and enhance global warming," says Hashim.

Firms are obliged to follow safety requirements by labelling their hazardous cargoes and following the safety standards related to each product. Any failure to comply with these standards may cause fatal accidents, alongside serious burns and other injuries. "In the worst-case scenario, if a company fails to comply with industry standards, the company must be closed immediately by the concerned authority and persons in charge should be black-listed from handling any business related to hazardous cargoes," says Al Shamsi.

Some companies dealing with hazardous products outsource their hazardous cargo freight operations to ensure the special care is taken. "We handle hazardous freight for several major companies in the region, including petrochemical and oil and gas companies. Some of the products are very toxic and require special handling," says Peter Richards, group director and general manager at the Sharjah-based Gulftainer Company, which operates more than 180 trucks from its local ports.

Some companies use their own trucks and need to ensure that their drivers are aware of safety requirements when transporting hazardous cargoes. "Currently we are handling all our products by our own road tankers and have charted one ship for one year for sea transport, which puts all responsibility of the carriage of the cargo during sea passage on the ship operators," says Al Shamsi. "Every truck should be equipped with fire fighting equipment, to allow for immediate intervention," he adds.

The operational costs of hazardous cargo have also been severely affected by the credit crunch. "While about a year back, vessel earnings were enough to cover the operational cost of the vessels plus some profit, the levels seen since the beginning of 2009 have been barely enough to cover the vessel operating costs," says Khanna.

"To make matters worse, increasing bunker prices are also contributing to the difficult times being faced by ship owners and operators. This has also resulted in increased lay-ups as for several owners as it has become a loss to even sail their chemical vessels," she adds.

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