Undeclared Dangerous Goods

December 14, 2016 0Air CargoLogisitcs

We are all aware in this day and age that there are certain articles you wouldn’t want to be loaded onto an aircraft, train, vehicle or boat that you may be traveling on but are still there.   Whether that be a container of some pathogen samples of a deadly contagious disease, a drum of chemicals or a crate of explosives. Articles of this nature are always having to be moved and for the most part we are aware that there are special protocols we have to adhere to, to get these moved in the safest but most efficient way.  There is however increasing worry within the freight forwarding industry that a major catastrophe is around the corner, due to a rise in undeclared dangerous goods being transported by inappropriate means and lacking the correct packaging and paperwork.

The most well documented case of this was as far back as 1996.  A low-cost carrier, Valujet Airlines operated in the USA and Canada during the 1990’s.  However, on 11th May 1996, Valujet flight 592 crashed into the Florida Everglades killing all 110 crew and passengers on board.  The cause was hazardous goods – Chemical Oxygen Generators, which had been illegally and incorrectly stowed in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

Smaller incidents also occur.  A Dentist sent some dental supplies from the Middle East to Sydney Australia.  He used the postal system to send this.  However enclosed was a small glass container of around 100mls of mercury. This cracked and started to spill during transport but was luckily discovered.  Had it not been found the mercury would have caused the outer body of the aircraft to be weakened and susceptible to a mid-air incident.

By now, we’ve all heard in the news that there have been issues with fires being caused by the latest Samsung phone and the lithium battery within it.  However, did you know that lithium batteries are contained in some other everyday articles?  Robotic lawnmowers, wheelchairs, kids hoverboards, Bluetooth lightbulbs and some torches are all examples of items containing them.  The lithium batteries within these articles pose a fire risk, so all need to be packed and transported in the correct manner.  Lithium batteries are the obvious items to look at but It’s not just those that pose a risk to the sector.   Everyday articles like the latest nail varnish, machinery parts or film equipment can also be hazardous.

The rise of e-commerce business is a fast-growing sector and also a key area for concern.  People can buy used or brand-new items from individuals off public auction websites.  In these instances, the seller may not have full knowledge of the articles they are selling and potential restrictions upon them.  These items can simply be popped into a small parcel and sent through the post with little thought to any implications this may have.  Throughout the Christmas period there is an increased risk from the public sending Christmas parcels to loved ones.  A family member or friend might want to make a light-hearted joke and add in a party popper or a Christmas cracker into the parcel they are sending.  This might seem innocent enough but these items are hazardous.  They contain a small trace of explosive to make the “pops” and “bangs” which again could cause a fire hazard.

There seems to be a certain level of naivety amongst the public on this subject.  So, what can be done to avoid dangerous situations from arising in the first place?

In the first instance the person sending the articles has a responsibility to check with the postal / forwarding companies that what they are sending is suitable for transporting.  This can be done in person, over the phone, or online.  The carriers also need to do their part and to be more thorough when taking bookings.  Specifically asking what the content is.  Not just “is there anything hazardous contained within the article?”  As already outlined, the majority of the general public can quite innocently believe that what they are sending isn’t hazardous as it doesn’t cause an immediate danger to themselves.  Further down the supply chain, training and awareness is key, which requires investment from the carriers.  Above all sufficient deterrents need to be put in place by the CAA to encourage correct practices in the first place.  With technological developments happening at an increasing rate, investment in this area needs to start increasing to combat this ever-growing threat to public safety.