Recently we have seen a number of claims related to cargoes of fertilizers. The most seen claims are wetting or caking of the fertilizer. Burnt fertilizer claims are less frequent but are more devastating and often resulting in a total loss of the vessel. With this circular MS Amlin aims to promote further awareness about the risks associated with the loading and transportation of fertilizers.
What are fertilizers?
Any natural or manufactured material is considered a fertilizer if it contains at least 5% of one or more of the three primary nutrients – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), or Potassium (K), also referred to as NPK.
There are several types of fertilizers in the market, however the most common are Urea, Ammonium Nitrate and Sodium/Potassium Nitrate.
Urea has no special hazards. It is non-combustible or has a low fire-risk. This cargo (either pure or impure) may, in the presence of moisture, damage paintwork or corrode steel.
Ammonium Nitrate is commonly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer, and it has also been used as an oxidizing agent in explosives, including improvised explosive devices. If heated strongly, this cargo decomposes, giving off toxic and other gases which can trigger combustion. Ammonium nitrate dust can be irritating to skin and mucous membranes.
Potassium Nitrate is a strong oxidizing agent. If shocked or heated or in contact with organic materials this cargo may ignite, causing fire or an explosion.
Sodium Nitrate although non-combustible, mixtures with combustible material are readily ignited and may burn fiercely.
In fact many fertilizers can slowly corrode metals particularly in the presence of water or moisture. Furthermore, all these cargoes are hygroscopic and will cake if damp and wet.
Classification by the IMSBC Code
Some of these products such as Potassium Chloride and Super Phosphate, are harmless, whilst others such as Ammonium Nitrate fertilizers are inherently dangerous and exposed to risk of explosion.
As such, the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code lists fertilizers in different categories.
All fertilizers fall into one of three categories:
- Type A: Oxidizers belonging to Class 5.1;
- Type B: NPK/NP/NK fertilizers capable of self-sustaining decomposition belonging to Class 9;
- Type C: Non-hazardous.
UN Resistance to Detonation Test for class 5.1 (type A) fertilizers
Fertilizers belonging to class 5.1 (Type A), when transported in bulk by sea, need to pass the official UN Resistance to Detonation Test. A test sample is confined in a steel tube and subjected to detonation shock from an explosive booster charge. The test is to be carried out twice in a row. If in each test one or more of the samples is crushed by less than 5% the sample is deemed to satisfy the resistance to detonation requirements. These test certificates must be kept on board. Several European countries demand that the test is not older than 3 months.