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Common Hazards of Bulk Cargo on Ships

The Maritime Industry plays a massive role in international trade with oceanic transport still being the most cost-effective and generally efficient way of transporting huge quantities of essential commodities and consumer goods. Cargo ships or bulk carriers play big roles in the global economy. Commonly transported dry bulk materials include iron ore, coal, cement, sulphur, fertilizers and sugar. Such commodities are not packaged, but shipped en-masse in cargo holds.

Seafarers who operate these bulk carriers or ocean vessels most times transport dry bulk cargoes which are also known as “dangerous goods” and have to deal with various safety issues. The shipping industry lists common hazards of bulk cargo on ships as listed below:

Cargo shift

Cargo shift is when the cargo on a ship moves within the cargo containers to an extent which compromises the stability of the ship. An example of this is the shift that occurs in grain cargoes. Grain settles by 2% of its volume allowing empty spaces to exist on the top of the grain surface. This “free flowing” nature of grain cargo causes ship instability.

Cargo falling from height

High density cargo such as iron ore and steel scrap poses the hazard of causing impact damage to people and property during loading and loading onto the ship’s cargo containers.

Cargo Liquefaction

When solid bulk cargo is transformed during transport into a semi fluid state, it is called cargo liquefaction. This happens with mineral concentrates, iron ore fines and even nickel ore when subject to agitation and vibration due to the ship’s motion.

Dust from working cargo

This hazard only affects personnel on the loading dock. When working with cargo that generates a lot of residual dust, the loading staff is susceptible to breathing disorders and irritation from inhalation of the said dust particles. This can be avoided by proper face masks, or breathing masks.

Structural damage

Structural failure is a major concern in cargo ships. This can happen when heavy cargoes place disproportionate loads on the ship. This is especially true when it comes to high density cargo. Technical guidelines such as the tank top strength must be strictly adhered to, to avoid such structural damage to the ship.

Oxygen depletion

When shipping bulk cargoes containing organic material such as wood, agricultural products, paper pulp etc. result in certain reactions leading to oxygen depletion and release of carbon dioxide. This will happen in in-ventilated spaces where crew may walk through, and may harm the said staff.


This is the one of the most frequent issues on cargo holds. When cargoes of corrosion inducing substances like sculpture and high moisture content goods are transported on cargo ships, they result in a lot of localized corrosion on the cargo ship.


This can occur when cargo loading is done without adequately preparing the ship deck and loading surfaces with proper cleaning procedures of various levels. Substances such as cement and unrefined sugar etc. leave residue that can contaminate other cargo and this should be avoided.


This is one of the most dangerous hazards on a cargo ship and should be avoided at all costs. This can occur literally from any cause such as flammable cargo being handled improperly, faulty electrical equipment being exposed and so on.


Ship Safety is a serious issue and requires due diligence by everyone involved in the process on every level. Every aspect mentioned above has to be added to a checklist and ticked off before and after every loading and or unloading of cargo to ensure optimal safety for the ocean vessel in question


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Yadav Venugopal

Yadav Venugopal is an Instructional Designer who has a passion for creation of content that is engaging, precise and succinct using innovative techniques for formulation and presentation. He is a mechanical engineer by education with a good grasp of aerospace design. While free he enjoys a spot of music and theater along with the occasional movie. He thinks the laugh track in a sitcom is unnecessary and that a well made masala dosa with a coffee is the perfect end to a long eventful day.

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