Forecasts predict that Brazil is poised to yield a record soybean crop during the current harvest season, mid-February to mid-May. In the following article, Ansuman Ghosh, Director of Risk Assessment, UK P&I Club highlights how mould, self-heating, wet damage and heat damage can affect the quality of soybeans during transportation and discusses possible mitigation methods.
istorically, the United States and Brazil are two of the world’s largest producers and exporters of soybeans. The US has a well-established transport infrastructure, which minimises problems with soybean transport. However, in Brazil, the transport infrastructure has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of farming regions, leading to longer delays, congestion during bad weather, and extended transportation. Additionally, different standards between Brazil and China – a key import partner – can create confusion when determining if a cargo has deteriorated, adding to the difficulty in handling claims.
The main types of cargo damage in the Brazil-China trade include mould and self-heating, wet damage and heat damage due to hot surfaces such as fuel tanks and engine rooms. Heat damage can sometimes occur on board the vessel, while mould, self-heating and wet damage are often a characteristic of the cargo.
Soybeans, which have a high oil content, are prone to self-heating under certain conditions. Often, this starts during the journey from the farmlands. Various factors, such as exposure to rain, leaky barges, or insufficient drying can aggravate the process. If the moisture content and temperature are suitable for mould growth, mould will start to form, and the oil in the beans will begin to break down. This results in a colour change, starting with a creamy yellow and gradually becoming darker as the deterioration progresses. When the oil has completely broken down and the beans become charcoal black, they become a problem for processing and are no longer usable.
Mould and Self-Heating
Preventing mould and self-heating issues can be achieved by monitoring moisture levels and temperatures throughout the loading process. This can be ensured by requesting laboratory results that specifically indicate moisture content. Although not feasible in all cases, the vessel should still ask for this and document when laboratory results are not provided. It is also recommended to have a local surveyor take temperatures at regular intervals during the loading and, if possible, take in-situ moisture measurements. . Maintaining accurate records of these measurements, alongside loading processes, the colour of the beans, and the loading methods can provide necessary evidence in the event of a claim.
During transportation, condensation can cause mould growth in the soybeans. This occurs when warm cargo is transported through cooler climates, causing warm air from the cargo to rise and condense onto the cold steel plates of the cargo hold. Often this results in a grid pattern of moisture and mould growth on top of the cargo. However, it’s important to note that mould growth is often limited to the surface layer, extending up to about 10 centimetres below the surface. Proper ventilation practices and communication with the receiver can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that the rest of the cargo can still be used, provided there are no other self-heating issues in the storage.
Ventilation records play an important role in defending wet damage and self-heating claims. Ventilating is crucial to keep the cargo temperature within safe limits.. It is recommended to have a weather forecast record and assess the conditions before deciding whether to ventilate or not. If the weather is expected to deteriorate or rain is forecast, it is safer not to ventilate. Keeping records of ventilation decisions and the reasons behind them, such as the weather conditions, can provide evidence in case of any disputes surrounding wet damage and self-heating claims later.
Proper maintenance of hatch covers is essential in preventing wet damage to soybeans during transportation. Leaking hatch covers can allow water to enter the cargo hold, leading to mould growth. This often results in localised damage, with the affected portion turning black from moulding and heating. However localised damage can be easily remedied through segregation without affecting the rest of the cargo. To ensure smoother claims handling, keeping records of hatch cover testing using various methods, such as water hose and ultrasonic tests, is crucial. Maintaining robust preventative maintenance system (PMS) documents detailing completed maintenance and inspection, as well as periodic service and manufacturer inspections, can significantly aid in handling claims.
Proximity to hot surfaces such as fuel tanks can initiate self-heating through the transfer of heat to the beans. Moisture migration from warm to cool areas can also lead to mould growth. To prevent these issues, it is essential to minimise heat exposure by monitoring heat sources and keeping them to a minimum.
With the advent of VLSFO fuels, fuel tanks often need to be heated to high temperatures. Proper fuel management on board ships, including adequate maintenance and records of fuel tank heating systems, can prevent heat damage in cargo and serve as valuable evidence. Many ships do not have automated temperature controls for fuel tanks, so fuel temperatures can increase rapidly if not monitored diligently.
With the soybean season now in full swing, it is important to remember that preventative measures are the best way to avoid economic loss. Mitigating risk of damage to sensitive cargoes is as simple as following best practice: due diligence, monitoring where appropriate and regular testing of processes. As ever, keeping accurate logs of these practices proves invaluable in the event of a claim.
The views presented are only those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.