What is International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG)?

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code or IMDG Code was adopted in 1965 as per the SOLAS (International Convention For Safety Of Life at Sea) Convention of 1960 under the IMO. Also, some of the provisions of MARPOL are extended in the IMDG Code. IMDG Regulations are updated periodically. In 2020, the 2018 edition came into effect. However, the 2020 codes came into effect on 1 June 2022, after a five-month delay caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

The objective of the IMDG Code is to ensure the safe transport of dangerous goods and prevent all types of marine pollution while allowing the free unrestricted movement of such goods. It also focuses on the preservation of the marine environment and the prevention of pollution. Voluntary compliance with the code began on 1 January 2019, and mandatory compliance with the code started on 1 January 2020.

It was developed as a uniform international code for transporting dangerous goods by sea, including packing, container traffic, and stowage, with special emphasis on segregating incompatible substances. It is a two-volume set, and another one-volume supplement emphasises fires and spillage emergencies.

The IMDG code also ensures that the goods transported through seaways are packaged so that they can be safely transported. The dangerous goods code is uniform. This means that the code applies to all cargo-carrying ships worldwide.

Dangerous goods are those materials essential for manufacturing items like electronics, cars, batteries, and pharmaceuticals, for which there is tremendous demand and take up a large chunk of world trade.

Related Reading: 8 Things Deck Officers Must Know While Handling Packaged IMDG Cargo


The dangerous goods code has been created per the recommendations of the United Nations panel of experts on the transportation of hazardous goods along with the IMO (International Maritime Organisation). This proposal by the UN was presented as a report in the year 1956, after which the IMO IMDG Code was started to be drafted in the year 1961.

Related Reading: 5 Instruments of IMO every Seafarer Should Know

Since marine transportation has undergone a lot of development and changes, it becomes essential that the code also keeps up with the changes. This is why there have been constant amendments to the IMDG code. The amendments are proposed every two years, and the adoption of the amendments takes place after two years of the proposal by the concerned authorities. The amendments are presented in this manner:

  • The countries that are members of the IMO present the required proposal.
  • The UN’s expert panel then views and decides what proposals merit immediate attention in the upcoming amendment.

Related Reading: Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS Used On Ships

Shipping Dangerous Cargo

Shipping dangerous goods is a very tricky business. This is why to avoid complications or problems while categorising the aspect and level of danger; there is a set of classifications for dangerous goods. There are nine clauses in which dangerous goods are classified. The dangerous goods labels and dangerous goods certificate for the cargo are issued as per the nine clauses, which are explained as follows:

  • Classification 1 is for explosives. The same classification has six sub-divisions for materials which pose a high explosive risk and low explosive risk, like aerosols and fireworks.
  • Classification 2 is for gases. This clause has three sub-categories that talk about highly flammable gases that are not inflammable and gases that are neither flammable nor toxic.
  • Classification 3 is for flammable liquids and has no sub-divisions
  • Classification 4 is for volatile solids. Three sub-categories deal with highly combustible solids, self-reactive solids and solids that, when interacting with water, could emit toxic gases
  • Classification 5 is for substances that have the chances of oxidisation, like portable tanks
  • Classification 6 is for all kinds of harmful substances, infectious substances or ones that could cause harm
  • Classification 7 is specifically for radioactive material
  • Classification 8 is for materials that face the threat of corrosion and erosion
  • Classification 9 is for those substances that cannot be classified under any of the above heads, i.e. miscellaneous dangerous substances, like internal combustion engines, dry ice etc.

Related Reading: Classification of Dangerous Goods

Importance of IMDG Code for seafarers

All the crew members engaged on a ship and involved directly with dangerous cargo carried on board the vessel must undergo a dangerous goods course based on STCW requirements and prepared as per IMO guidance. Several shore-based training centres offer dangerous goods training to handle the IMDG cargo on a ship. The following are essential points that a seafarer must understand under the IMDG code:

  • Segregation of dangerous goods and identifying the proper shipping name of dangerous goods.
  • They should know how the particular IMDG cargo should be packed
  • He should understand different types of markings, labels or placards used to address various dangerous goods
  • Must know the hazards associated with these goods and safe practices to load/unload the cargo unit carrying the IMDG products.

Related Reading: Cargo Handling On Ships – 10 Tips That Can Save Your Life

  • The seafarer should understand the transport documents used for dangerous goods
  • .How to handle the dangerous goods when the ship is under voyage

Related Reading: Understanding Principles Of Passage Planning

  • Inspector conduct a survey, if needed, to comply with applicable rules and regulations
  • To know the best procedure to contain and fight a fire involving dangerous goods carried on a ship

Related Reading: Fighting Fire In Ship’s Cargo Hold

  • To prepare hazardous goods loading/stowage plans considering ship stability, safety and emergency preparedness during an unfortunate incident.
  • Understand the importance of correct dangerous goods declaration for port authorities and land transit purpose

At present, the reach of the IMDG Code extends to about 150 countries worldwide, with around 98% of ships following the code’s requirements. This figure helps us understand the code’s effectiveness concerning shipping dangerous goods across the oceans and the marine life forms that exist therein.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the IMDG Code?

The IMDG Code was formulated to ensure the safe carriage of dangerous goods in a packaged form at sea to prevent loss of life and property at sea and prevent marine pollution.

2. What are the contents of the IMDG Code?

It has four contents; the first part contains the general provisions, definitions and training-related information. The second part contains the detailed classification of goods into different types, the fourth part contains packing and tank provisions, and the fifth part outlines the consignment procedure.

3. What are the three purposes of the IMDG Code classification?

The similarity and consistency in the UN Recommendations, the IMDG Code and other dangerous goods transport regulations are intended to increase user-friendliness, ensure compliance with the regulations and the safe transportation of dangerous cargo in a packaged form.

4. What is an IMDG Certification?

IMDG Certification enables someone to ship hazardous goods via sea internationally. However, this Certification lasts only three years. One needs to ensure his Certification remains active by passing a renewal course.

5. What do you mean by a proper shipping name?

It is like a key to determining how packages for dangerous goods are selected, marked and labelled. It helps to ensure that the vehicle is correctly placarded and the shipment is appropriately documented.

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Disclaimer: The author’s views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 



About Author

An ardent sailor and a techie, Anish Wankhede has voyaged on a number of ships as a marine engineer officer. He loves multitasking, networking, and troubleshooting. He is the one behind the unique creativity and aesthetics at Marine Insight.

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  1. All dangerous goods need a label no matter if it is in a small bottle or large drum such that it can be easily identified and it’s chemical properties easily recognised by the pictogram i.e. corrosive, flammable. because as ordinary people handling it, you are not going to be able to tell if it’s an flammable chemical by it’s chemical name so how will you know how to properly handle it?.

    It is important in the transport of dangerous goods (air/sea/land) that all chemicals be correctly named and labelled. There are strict laws on it (air/sea/land) and especially if you are importing/ exporting that stuff.

  2. i)Does Coal Comes Under IMDG Cargo?
    ii)Does imdg applies to all ships carrying dangerous goods or only goods in packed form?

  3. what are the functions of the IMDG code and how all types of dangerous and hazardous goods are classified within it.

  4. Wow, that’s what I was exploring for, what a information!
    existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this web page.

    Juventus matchtröja

  5. Thank you very much for your kind words. Credit goes to our readers like you, for supporting us.

  6. How does the various elements contained in the IMDG code enables the safe carriage of dangerious goods at sea.

  7. It says the imdg code is applicable for all ships carrying dangerous cargo. What about oil and chemical tankers carrying dangerous cargoes is bulk?

  8. @yash
    Yes coal comes under imdg code..
    It comes under group B under imsbc
    i.e substance which posses chemical hazards.

  9. hi, Just now we have some goods which is solar panel for domestic use string light. Forwarder required many doc in MSDS file show it is IMDG 37-14 . Can we ship as NDG ??

  10. @It depends on various factor such as how the dangerous cargo will react with others. The best way is to ship them separately.

  11. I am happy to read article, such an informative content that you have provided for us. I would love to read more blogs about it. Keep it up with good work.

  12. HI Anish
    Great article – a question please.
    I am associated with a port operator that received a number of leaking (chemical) containers. I am new to the ports industry and I detect some disagreement here. Is IMDG relevant and useful to berthed vessels would you say? – emergency response, containment, safe management? Or is it more usefully applicable to vessels at sea?
    Appreciate your guidance.

  13. @Ron: The IMDG code provides document for the dangerous cargo which is applicable in any place, whether it is in land, sea, or on ship berthed in port.

  14. Is there any provisions that allows a vessel carrying dangerous goods either packed or not can discharge at sea?

    if it has, since most of it is in package form, is criteria essential in discharging?

  15. @Jovel: Did you mean discharge packaged cargo at sea? It can be done under emergency circumstances only.

  16. Hello,

    I need to know pls what are the regulations concerning the liability of each entity concerning the labeling of the goods and the container when shipping dangerous class 8 goods by sea?

    The cargo is properly packed inside the container with the correct label on the gallons. My question is regarding the labels that should be put on the container from the outside. Is this a requirement when shipping Class 8 goods? If so, who is responsible for this when it is an Ex-Works shipment?

    Thank you,

  17. We have regular claims from shipping line for IMDG labels are missing at the transhipment port or POD . The shipping line claims an amount for re-labelling the container

    My concern is when the container is gated in at POL, the labels are there , After the labels only the terminal allows us to gate in the container .

    We produce the Photogragh of the container also to the shipping line showing the proof that the container was having the sticker at the time of loading at the POL.How can we fight with shipping line and waive off the said charges.

    Is there any website where in I can have information on the what type of IMDG labels are required on the containers by sea mode and who is responsible when the goods are in water if the labels is pilled out , may be due to any reason such as weather , moisture .etc…

    Please advise .

  18. What Are parcel cargo ?
    And precaution while loading
    Any one know about this
    Send me in detail

  19. @Tasleem: It is a broader termed used for packaged shipment. The package can be in form of cartons, boxes, containers etc.

  20. what is the difference between dangerous good and noxious liquid substance?

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