The accident report of the UPS plane crash in Dubai last September makes harrowing reading. The plane, leaving Dubai on route from Hong Kong to Germany, filled with thick smoke as the crew struggled to control an emergency descent. As the aircraft’s flight controls and landing gear malfunctioned, the plane crashed into a military compound after overflying Dubai International Airport, tragically killing both pilots.
According to the report, released just last month by Dubai’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), the plane had been carrying at least three rechargeable lithium battery packs that should have been treated as hazardous cargo under international shipping regulations. Whilst the report does not identify the cause of the fire, it strongly highlights the dangers of the shipment of highly flammable lithium batteries in contributing to the rapid spread of fire.
The incident also emphasises the need for logistics companies to be ever vigilant of the potentially disastrous consequences of transporting dangerous goods, and ensure that they stay on top of regularly evolving regulations. In practice, however, this is easier said than done.
With a myriad of different directives relating to the handling of dangerous goods at both a national and international level, based on different cargos and modes of transportation, it is understandable how companies can be left reeling with regulation overload. Modal regulations change every two years, following directed amendments from the United Nation’s Recommendations on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods – with the next set of changes taking place at the beginning of this year.
The changes are meant to influence all those involved in the dangerous goods supply chain and it is recommended that all logistics players are made well aware of how the changes in regulation can impact on their services. However, logistics players also have to contend with local, legally-binding directives relating to the transport of dangerous goods, which may not always be consistent with those internationally.
“It is important to note that the recommendations on the transport of dangerous goods are not of mandatory application per se,” highlights Olivier Kervella, chief of the Dangerous Goods and Special Cargoes Section at the Transport Division of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. “They are addressed to all governments and all international organisations involved in the transport of dangerous goods to be used for the elaboration and updating of their national regulations or international legal instruments.”
In terms of international instruments, the UN’s recommendations are more or less effectively transposed into all major directives governing the international transport of dangerous goods such as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) and Regulations for the International Carriage of Dangerous by Rail (RID). But, as Kervella reiterates, the challenge for regional logistics companies is that, although the main international legal instruments are very well harmonised with the UN Model Regulations, some provisions may differ.
To counteract such areas of inconsistency, harmonisation is a key goal for the dangerous goods regulators. One of the very core functions of the UN model regulations is to act as a template to help governments ensure proper legislation for a high level of safety during the transport of dangerous goods by all modes of transport, and greater consistency with regulations of other countries.
However, as Kervella points out, logistics organisations – whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world – have to primarily comply with legally applicable national regulations, as opposed to the UN regulations which are of a recommendatory nature and targeted at the regulators themselves.
In everyday reality, national priorities and regulations may differ from those put forward in the global model – based on local experience and markets. For example, the UPS incident in the region resulted in calls for more stringent measures when handling and transporting lithium batteries. Whilst some regions such as the US had already been facing an intensive lobbying battle to counter such measures for a while now, the UAE authorities could be in a better position to push through tougher controls.
“Consistency depends on interpretation of the regulations,” agrees Jeff Wilson, general manager for the Middle East at Dangerous Goods International (DGI) Global Forwarding Bahrain, a leading logistics specialist exclusively involved in dangerous goods air freight. “As an example, the regulations concerning lithium batteries are already extremely ‘tough’ but local requirements, due to interpretation of the regulations, have increased the difficulty to send such shipments.”
As a company concentrating solely on the transportation of dangerous goods, DGI ensures that it keeps on top of regulatory change as issued both locally and internationally by the likes of IATA. “Generally I don’t believe the average forwarder is up to date with intricacies of DGR shipments and that is why they use companies like DGI,” says Wilson. “A company like DGI exists to take the headaches away from general freight forwarders,” he adds. Wilson finds that his customers use DGI’s services to both attend to packing and preparation of Shippers Declarations, and avail the door to door service that it offers.
Not all hazardous handling is left to the specialist service providers, and many wider logistics companies have found this to be a profitable market segment. To continue to be successful in this specialised field, however, it is imperative that such companies take the ever-evolving local and global dangerous goods regulations, both local and international, very seriously.
Dubai-based Globelink West Star Shipping is one example of good practice. Authorised to handle most classes of hazardous cargo at its facility at Jebel Ali, the company has years of experience in air freight handling. “By having over 15 IATA-qualified dangerous goods specialists in our office, we can give proper advice in the storage, handling and shipping of dangerous goods to clients,” says Sumesh Nair, commercial general manager for Globelink West Star Shipping.
“Our specialists are updated on regulations on a regular basis to support our customers to secure the needed documentation from authorities.” As well as intense staff training on the handling aspect, the company has a made a policy beeline into the local authority, to keep on top of any new developments or implementation of dangerous goods cargo regulations. “It is a mandatory requirement of the authorities that we keep updated with any regulatory change,” emphasises Nair.
“Besides this, it is part of our social responsibility towards the environment and people that we maintain proper health and safety standards while handling cargo of hazardous nature.”
His views are echoed by fellow logistician, Tom Nauwelaerts, head of logistics at Al-Futtaim Logistics. “Regulation and the enforcement of regulations via various means are the cornerstones for implementing and maintaining standards prescribed for the safety and wellbeing of all throughout the supply chain,” he argues. “Anyone failing to comply puts the entire chain at risk.”
Like Globelink, the transport of dangerous goods forms a key part of the Al Futtaim Logistics offering, and the Dubai-based company has the experience and expertise to move and store dangerous goods in line with the various regulatory bodies. “We are registered with both IATA and IMDG for the receipt of and implementation of any changes to the regulations,” says Nauwelaerts. “We use the same standards for the handling and movement of goods throughout our supply chain activities as a benchmark of acceptable practice. All our dangerous goods certified staff are kept abreast of changes and trained on the implications and opportunities.”
Nauwelaerts believes that the region has to be up to date and largely compliant with regards to air and sea transport as these modes are controlled by governing bodies that prescribe to airlines and liners the minimum accepted standard of carrying dangerous goods. “No goods will be accepted without the IATA or IMDG conditions being met for carriage and where controls are applied in the form of IATA and IMDG, a worldwide consistency may be achievable,” he suggests. “However at local level each country will apply regulations in line with their own risk management policies for domestic management of dangerous goods whether by road, rail transport or warehousing and storage.”
With no full guarantee of consistency between national legislations and international guidelines, what is the best way forward for logistics operators seeking the safest way to transport dangerous goods?
Chris Goater, communications manager for corporate communications at IATA, believes that having national directives that are consistent with international sea and air regulations is the only way forward to help facilitate trade and reduce costs for companies wishing to import and export dangerous goods. IATA’s own Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR- 52nd Edition) took effect early this year, containing changes implemented by the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel.
A trusted source for many airlines, the manual aims to establish a standard, harmonious and safe transport of hazardous materials by air. “As countries seek to become, or remain competitive, regulatory consistency will be seen as a way of achieving cost and safety improvements in being aligned with international standards,” says Goater says.
He points to the work underdone by the UN Subcommittee of Experts, the Joint Working Group responsible for road and rail regulations in Europe responsible for ADR/RID and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) over the last six years to work to remove some of the obvious regulatory barriers to multi-modal transport of dangerous goods. “There are still some areas where more can be achieved, but largely the modal regulations are now well harmonised,” Goater says. “The areas that require some increased efforts probably relate more to the application of the dangerous goods regulations in national regulations. However, as countries seek to become, or remain competitive, regulatory consistency will be seen as a way of achieving cost and safety improvements in being aligned with international standards.”
Ultimately, the impetus to keep up and integrate latest developments in policy lies at the feet of the governing bodies of each particular country in the Middle East. Fortunately, there appears to be evidence that many part of the Middle East region are taking the harmonising of regulations very seriously. Last November, just one month after the fatal UPS crash, Dubai’s civil aviation authority (GCAA) hosted the ICAO’s Dangerous Goods Panel meeting, bringing together the leading dangerous goods and aviation representatives including IATA to promote better understanding in aviation safety and security as a ‘shared responsibility’.
Although directives such as the UN recommendations may not be legally binding, there are benefits for logistics companies that take them seriously. According to Kervella, keeping track of changes to the UN regulations allows the sector to know in advance what is going to change in legislation, bearing in mind that it takes two years to transpose these new provisions into legally applicable national or international regulations.
Furthermore, as the very nature of the supply chain often involves an international network, awareness of global regulations can prevent problems in the transport of dangerous goods to overseas destinations. “It is very important for companies which are involved in multimodal transport operations or international transport to comply with this overall harmonised system of regulations, since controls may be very strict and packages, containers or vehicles that would not comply can simply be not accepted on board ships or aircrafts,” warns Kervella.