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Baltimore Bridge collapse, Dali and controversy

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According to media reports the ship was carrying containers on a 27-day voyage to the Colombo Port

 

  •  Who the toxic materials and fuel were consigned to in Sri Lanka- in technical terms the consignee of the cargo or the notify party- is not being reported
  • The CEJ proceedings were almost scuttled due to a lack of documents of evidence and proper interpretation of Bills of Lading Manifests
  •  However, a small group of sincere persons gave the CEJ the background to the Obligations of the Maritime Ordinance

The vessel sailed to the Baltimore Harbour with safety concerns of how it would be if it had to sail through the Suez Canal with threats from the attackers of the Red Sea. It was good to go around Cape of Good Hope and avoid the dangers mainly for the safety of the ship, cargo and the crew. It would have been a voyage with a sense of relief.
However, a few minutes after the ship left the Baltimore Harbor quay- facing the opposite direction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge- it took a U-turn to the middle of the harbor basin and onto Patapsco River to face the oncoming bridge. Little did the pilot, captain and crew imagine the looming danger, the worst disaster that could happen in the history of a US Port.  The busy US bridge was lurking around the corner as they would say literally. (See satellite photo).
The disaster began when the ship completely lost its electrical power and propulsion after leaving the port and started straying off the course. The crew panicked but did their best to get/or expect the auxiliary power backups which came too late to avert the danger.


A modern ship


 How and what exactly went wrong that led to the loss of power on board the Dali remains unclear. The National Transportation Safety Board said that investigators will look into the date from a voyage data recorder.
Thanks to the intervention of the Maryland Transportation Authority to stop the traffic on the bridge. If not there would have been more casualties.
As per the experts on maritime affairs, there are some theories and strategic facts around the mystery of the fateful incident which resulted in six workers on the bridge going missing.
As of now, it is known by media reports that the ship was carrying containers on a 27-day voyage to the Colombo Port.
Around 764 tons of hazardous materials to Sri Lanka mostly corrosives, flammables, miscellaneous hazardous materials, and up to Class-9 hazardous materials, including explosives and lithium-ion batteries were in 56 containers. The US National Transportation Safety Board carried out an analysis to determine what was onboard in its other 4,644 containers.
Who the toxic materials and fuel were consigned to in Sri Lanka- in technical terms the consignee of the cargo or the notify party- is not being reported. Also, it is a long way for such Hazmat, and fuel to be exported in one voyage without calling in other ports en route to Colombo Port.
There are reports of uncertainty about who is exporting such toxic waste to Sri Lanka, and who is importing them. Are the US and the media institutions attempting to divert attention from the ship charterers–Maersk’s Line involvement? Unless there is some classified information that cannot be divulged for reasons that are unknown to authorities.
In this instance, it is not possible to say that the authorities cannot find who the exporter and the importer are as the US Customs rules are that any vessel leaving the port of USA origin has to make a prior establishment in filing the Manifest.


Code of Federal Regulations states – Title 19.


Unless specifically accepted by law, all vessels must obtain clearance from CBP before departing from a port or place in the United States. It is a detailed process of declaring  clearance, (CBP – Customs Boarder Protection).
With this background and especially the nature of cargo termed as‘Dangerous Goods’ (from class up to class 9) no one can say that the contents on board this vessel and details of the shipper and consignee were difficult to find.
Spurred by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the World Customs Organization (WCO) developed a framework to be internationally implemented as the “WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade”
The summary of the Advance Filing Rules on Maritime Container Cargo Information and The Advance Filing Rules on Maritime Container Cargo Information oblige filers to electronically submit detailed information for maritime container cargoes to be loaded on a vessel intending to enter a port in principle, before departure of the vessel from the port of loading. Specific details are as follows. (Refer to Appendix 1 “Summary of the Advance Filing Rules on Maritime Container Cargo Information”)
Introduction to provide increased security to the global supply chain, e.g., via counterterrorism measures, the Customs has to enhance control at the border by obtaining maritime container cargo information at an earlier point. Therefore, the revised Customs Law in 2012 stipulates the Advance Filing Rules on Maritime Container Cargo Information, which require operators of foreign trading vessels carrying container cargoes intending to enter a port  and consignors for the applicable cargoes to electronically file detailed cargo information with the Customs before the foreign trading vessels leave the ports of loading.
With the Federal rules in force, the WCO Guidelines (World Customs Organisation) and Sri Lanka being a party at the Basel Convention on the Control and Border Protection for Management and the Movement of Hazardous goods and dumping of such waste lot has been written on conventions.
 One may have to imagine the theories and conspiracies that are an intricate part of attitudes and unethical practices we are familiar with by now.
The most serious problem we have in this surreptitious society is the information that is withheld and the lack of transparency in these serious issues that affects and damage our resources and the environment. Finally no one responsible or held in neglect is brought to justice.


Lessons to be learned


In that context no lessons have been learnt from the past experience of the incidents mentioned. The ship loaded with toxic materials still smoking enters our waters to sink in the vicinity of our harbor is still unfinished business up to date.
When the waste containers from the UK arrived in Sri Lanka in 2019, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) filed a petition seeking a court order to re-export the waste containers back to the UK and prosecute those responsible for the illegal activities. The CEJ proceedings were almost scuttled due to a lack of documents of evidence and proper interpretation of Bills of Lading Manifests. However, a small group of sincere persons gave the CEJ the background to the Obligations of the Maritime Ordinance and the CEJ skillfully handled the proceedings to get what was thought impossible to achieve. In this case, too there were several reputable business entities engaged in the operations. They all denied their involvement at the beginning and later succumbed in the face of the law.
In one of the articles, I read the following script.
It is reported in one of the New York journels: ‘Ship ownership structures’ are ‘designed to maximize opacity and minimize accountability. While global companies such as Maersk charter the vessels, the owners and the ship managers are responsible for managing the crew and maintaining the ships. The extremely opaque nature of global ship-owning makes finding the ultimate owners and holding them accountable for any violations difficult. Shipping is the Wild West from a compliance and accountability perspective. And when compliance and accountability aren’t priorities, issues like environmental standards, labour practices and health and safety often aren’t either.’
There are views that publicizing  incidents of this nature is detrimental to the business and the port development. In the aftermath of the accident in Baltimore- certain facts came to light and now the blame has been put on the media stating, it is “Hilarious”, it  “will not be so if the matters turned out  less “rib-tickling” and rather not “skull bone-breaking danger to the Port of Colombo.
(The writer is the former Chairman of the Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council and past committee member of leading organisations. With over 38 years in the industry he is currently heading a leading organisation in 
export/import) 
Photos-Courtesy: CDM

 

 


  Comments - 1

  • don't try to sweep it under the carpet Friday, 12 April 2024 07:00 AM

    This is a secret deal between the Government of USA and the Government of Sri Lanka for some extra aid to feed the hungry mouths before the elections due in October. That's the reason why nobody is coming forward to claim responsibility for the importation of harzardous waste into the country which is an environmental risk to the health of people of the country


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