How Hapag-Lloyd became a pioneer in the transport of dangerous goods

The explosion of the North German Lloyd vessel “MS Moselstein” in the Port of Antwerp in December 1966 was one of the biggest accidents involving a ship in the post-war period. The accident was triggered by a fire in Hold 1, which caused several explosions. But the cause remained unclear. These and other incidents heightened awareness of the importance of correctly and transparently declaring hazardous goods – and thereby laid the foundation for the creation of the Dangerous Goods department at what was then still Hapag. Since then, Hapag-Lloyd has become a pioneer in the transport of dangerous goods.

In the late 1960s, there was a directive on ocean freight that regulated the stowage and packaging of dangerous goods – but only on the national level. However, the incident involving the “Moselstein” showed just how important it was to create uniform international standards. At the time, this led to the emergence of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, which was based on UN regulations for the shipping industry. This code sets the international standards for the classification and transport of dangerous goods by ship – and it is the Bible, so to speak, for the experts in the Dangerous Goods department.

Today, if a dangerous goods booking is registered at Hapag-Lloyd, it is first checked for accuracy. In addition to scrutinising whether the cargo has been correctly described, the so-called dangerous goods validator also examines the entire route – including all loading, discharging, transit and transshipment regulations. In other words, it looks into which regulations need to be complied with in all the individual ports and whether there are any specific restrictions. If the cargo doesn’t satisfy “legal compliance” completely and across the board, it won’t be accepted for the voyage.

Then the booking data are checked by the Dangerous Goods manager using the “four-eyes principle” – an important standard to ensure a high degree of safety. After that, the manager prepares the data record for the central stowage planning office in Hamburg, as the precise stowage instructions from the Dangerous Goods team enable the stowage planners to determine the best spot on board to stow each DG container. Then the Dangerous Goods department checks the stowage plan again, which means that there is a double four-eyes principle. It is only after the responsible DG manager gives his or her OK that the stowage plan from the central stowage planning office becomes a legally binding stowage instruction.

For Hapag-Lloyd, dangerous goods are a very interesting niche product of much strategic importance. “We boast a high degree of expertise in this specialised business segment, as we have internationally renowned dangerous goods experts based in our Regional headquarters in addition to the right tools and leading IT solutions,” says Ken Rohlmann, Senior Director Dangerous Goods at Hapag-Lloyd. “On the other hand, transporting dangerous goods is quite a lucrative business segment. And that’s why further expanding our dangerous goods business is an important part of our corporate strategy ‘Strategy 2023’.”

While the manual check of the dangerous goods is being performed, the award-winning “Cargo Patrol” safety software – which was developed by Hapag-Lloyd in 2011 and is now distributed by IBM – scans all of Hapag-Lloyd’s bookings that are not declared as dangerous goods for suspicious keywords. In fact, the major challenge for all carriers is to identify goods that are not declared as dangerous goods in accordance with the regulations.

When the Dangerous Goods department was formed in March 1969 – or exactly 50 years ago – these processes had to be created from scratch. This was a “learning-by-doing” process to a certain extent, as there weren’t any precedents to serve as a blueprint. Today, Hapag-Lloyd is a pioneer in the transport of dangerous goods. Last year, the company transported almost 480,000 TEU of dangerous goods without any major incidents. That shows that Hapag-Lloyd is very well prepared for this kind of cargo.

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