Regulations and control of in-transit fumigated containers as well as of fumigated cargo ships

Int Marit Health. 2003;54(1-4):77-85.


Introduction: According to IMO's international regulations, e.g. "Recommendations on the safe use of pesticides in ships", fumigated containers and ship cargoes must be labeled giving specifications about dates of fumigation and the fumigation gas used. Furthermore, appropriate certificates are necessary and these records have to be forwarded to the Port Health Authorities without their explicitly asking for them.

Background and objectives: According to IMO (DSC/Circ. a recent inspection of containers unloaded in ports showed that some were under fumigation, but not declared as such and in a few cases these ventilated containers arrive with "Degas Certificates" stating that fumigant has been removed, but still have a high fumigant concentration inside when opened. There are similar reports from The Netherlands, where 21% of the fumigated containers had missing or false declarations and contained measurable amounts of toxic gas. In England 6% were mentioned to be allegedly false. Reports exist of a number of other incidents with containers under fumigation arriving in English ports with no accompanying documents on the ship or at the port of discharge as to the type of cargo. In one case several people were hospitalized after exposure to phosphine gas because the fumigant tablets were not yet totally decomposed before the ship arrived at its destination port. In Bavaria, Germany, a bad accident recently occurred through a non declared fumigated container (see press release). Our sample: a large container ship in the Port of Hamburg where 27 of the cargo's containers were found fumigated with 27 non/incomplete/false declarations. These examples show that missing/false labelling is frequent.

Conclusions and recommendations: Clearance of in-transit fumigated containers in ports is complicated and time-consuming for the captain and shipping company. The above mentioned accident and also the results of our spot check prove, as do the experiences in The Netherlands and England, that false declarations of fumigated containers seem commonplace. This coincides with a considerable danger for ship crews, port workers and end users. More stringent controls, including gas analysis, are necessary as well as a systematic study. As a first step in that direction, we included the question "Are fumigated containers on board?", in the form of the Maritime Declaration of Health we demand. A computer controlled information and communication system network between ports and its link with the Waterways and Shipping Directorate would enable comprehensive plausibility monitoring and thus help achieve a better surveillance.

MeSH terms

  • Fumigation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Occupational Health Services / standards*
  • Product Labeling
  • Product Packaging
  • Safety / standards*
  • Ships*
  • Social Control, Formal