Real Life Incident: Charcoal Fire In Containers

On two container vessels, fires broke out in containers loaded with charcoal in bulk even though the charcoal had passed the UN N.4 test and was not classified as self-heating. In both cases, the charcoal cargo originated in the island of Borneo, Indonesia, and was destined for the same consignee. Due to the similarity of the cause of the fires, the investigation of the two cases was summarised by the BSU in one investigation report. On each vessel, the fires were controlled and extinguished with a minimum of damage to surrounding containers.

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The report’s findings include the following:

  • It is not possible to fully determine the hazardous material properties of charcoal based on the UN N.4 test alone. This is at least true of charcoal that passes the preliminary test and is then transported in large packages or in bulk in large sea containers, for example.
  • The UN N.4 test does not sufficiently address the dependency on the volume of the goods transported.
  • In multiple instances, the cargo documents examined in connection with this case could not be definitely linked to the cargo transported – see Lessons Learned below.

Lessons learned
The website provides the following recommendations for the transport of charcoal that is not classified in documentation as dangerous goods:

  • Check that the laboratory certificate is applicable to the customer
  • Check that the laboratory is accredited by the competent authority
  • Check that the manufacturer’s name is shown on the laboratory certificate
  • The laboratory certificate must accompany the shipment. After the containers have been stuffed, the container numbers are to be added to the certificate (hand written is acceptable) and placed on board the vessel


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