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The watchdog that detects explosives

How Hapag-Lloyd retrieves incorrectly declared dangerous goods

Hapag-Lloyd has one of the oldest dangerous goods departments in the shipping industry – and one of the most innovative “watchdogs” in existence. A so-called watchdog programme detects incorrectly declared dangerous goods in the almost six million standard containers that Hapag-Lloyd transports every year. Containers which have been declared either incorrectly or not at all can quickly turn into a serious problem on land and at sea if they are not handled properly because their actual content is not known. To prevent this, Hapag-Lloyd continuously examines the data of all cargo transported worldwide using its own intelligent watchdog software to identify conspicuous terms and word combinations.

To date, it has a database of more than 6,000 keywords. In 2014, the watchdog “barked” more than 162,000 times. The dangerous goods experts then look at each consignment and investigate it. Without the watchdog, incorrectly declared dangerous goods would have been transported on 2,620 occasions last year – due to either ignorance or a deliberate effort to save money or circumvent restrictions imposed by the shipping company or port. “By doing so, these customers endanger our crews, the ship, the cargo of our honest customers and, above all, the environment,” says Ken Rohlmann, head of the dangerous goods department at Hapag-Lloyd. If it is not handled properly, cargo that sounds harmless can become a life-threatening danger – such as polymeric beads, for example.

Even polymeric beads on board are dangerous: This is how a container can look like, if not properly dealt with such cargo

The photo shows a container that was deformed by an explosion – luckily, not one of Hapag-Lloyd’s. The gases emitted by the plastic beads were ignited when the container was opened – with disastrous consequences. A sobering example of why it is a matter of life and death not just to correctly declare all potentially dangerous goods but also to search for them. For this reason, the Hapag-Lloyd watchdog has also prompted significant interest among other shipping companies as well as port and security authorities. “If we refuse this type of cargo which has been declared either incorrectly or not at all, some customers will try to pull the same trick with another shipping company,” says Rohlmann, who has given numerous presentations on the Hapag-Lloyd watchdog. “Our figures are alarming, and the issue has become one of the main challenges in the dangerous goods business for the whole shipping industry. The safer the entire sea transport system is, the better for everyone.”

The damaged container from the inside: The polymeric beads produce vapors that can ignite - and explode

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