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Ore Cargoes From Sierra Leone Seen Unsafe by Insurer

Iron-ore exports from Sierra Leone may be unsafe because the moisture content of the steel-making commodity is too high, creating the risk some shipments may liquefy during transit, the London P&I Club said.

There’s no equipment in the West African country that can sample cargoes to check whether they exceed international moisture limits for safe transport, the club, a ship owners’ association that provides protection and indemnity insurance, said by e-mail today.

“Ships are being offered iron-ore cargoes for loading in Sierra Leone which are unsafe,” the club said, citing cases received from Brookes Bell LLP, a marine consultant it hired. “Limited local expertise and technology, together with poor communications, are exacerbating the problems.”

Dry-bulk commodities with excessive moisture content can liquefy and turn to slurry during voyages, causing vessels to capsize. A total of 66 seafarers between December 2010 and February 2012 died after vessels sank after cargoes of nickel-ore liquefied, according to the London-based International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners.

Two shippers have resumed exports of iron ore after a 10-year civil war ended, the London Club said. Surveyors had to use the oven in the ship’s galley in one case to try and determine the moisture content of one cargo, it said.

China imported 609,136 metric tons of iron ore worth $64.4 million from Sierra Leone last month, according to Customs data compiled by Bloomberg.

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