A broken, dangerous goods transportation chain: the root-cause of Apiate explosion

Dangerous Good

In the Dangerous Goods world, the parties involved in transporting Dangerous Goods safely from one point to another are said to be in a ‘Transportation Chain’; and if all these parties involved had prior to that received Dangerous training, and possessed much current knowledge of those Dangerous Goods being transported in their respective transport modes – that is by Air, Sea, Road or Rail – and performed their duties diligently in line with those Regulations, the chances that those goods will get to their final destination without a problem become very high.

This chain could be broken for various reasons – and the results could be as disastrous as what bedevilled the good people of Apiate, a community of the Prestea Huni-Valley district in Western Region, Ghana, where it was reported that a truck carrying Explosives which by Dangerous Goods Classification comes under Dangerous Goods Class-1, had an encounter with a burning motor-bike on a highway.

Resultantly, the truck also initially caught fire underneath, and the fire extended to other parts of the Truck until it engulfed the whole and exploded – killing at least 13 people while several others sustained various degree of injury, and the whole Apiate village was also destroyed on that fateful Thursday, 20th January 2022 as a result of the explosion.

Some of the contributing reasons for this disaster could be lack of Dangerous Goods training; lack of confidence to respond promptly to Dangerous Goods Emergency situations; overconfidence, poor judgement, laxity due to lack of regulatory enforcement, and many others.

Who and who were part of the Chain?

In this case, Maxam Ghana Ltd., the supplier which is also the Shipper or Consignor, and its appointed personnel that were directly involved in the preparation and movement of the said explosives – such as the Warehouse personnel and Loaders of the Explosives were part of the Chain

If Maxam Ghana Ltd. happened to appoint Jocyderk Logistics & Shipping Limited to undertake the Haulage aspect of moving the said Explosives – that is, to transport the goods from Maxam Ghana Warehouse to the Consignee’s Warehouse on their behalf – then Jocyderk Logistics & Shipping Limited becomes the ‘Operator’ (the Carrier)  in this case, and also formed part of the Chain  .

On the other hand, Kinross’s Chirano Gold Mines (the Consignee) that ordered the Explosives to be brought and stored for future use and their personnel that would have been directly responsible for the safety of the said Explosives, if it had gotten to their end, would have also formed part of the Chain.

These aforementioned participants, the Shipper/Consignor, the Operator/Carrier and the Consignee, are considered the major stakeholders of this Chain; and each one of them has an obligation or responsibility toward the safe transport of any Dangerous Goods they decide to move from one place to another – and Dangerous Goods training for all these stakeholder is a must, and plays a key role. Failure to exercise these obligations may be in breach of national or international laws, which may bring sanctions and penalties upon themselves.

The definition of Dangerous Goods alone, as “Articles or substances which are capable of posing a hazard to health, safety, property or the environment” is enough evidence that in order for one to transport these articles and substances from one point to another safely requires well-trained and certified personnel with current knowledge in function-specific Dangerous Goods Regulations training based on the mode of transport to be used.

For example, if the mode of transport is by Sea, International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code) training would be required; if by Air, the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulation based on ICAO Technical Instruction training would be required; and if by Road in some Jurisdictions, Agreement concerning the international carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) training would be required.

Now, the big question is “Who might have broken this Chain unawares?”

To begin with, let us get ourselves familiar a bit with the technical nature of Explosives that the vehicle was said to contain at the time of the Explosion, based on various media reportage.

The vehicle was said to carry ten tonnes (10,000 Kilograms) of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO) by technical name.

Now, permit me to take you through what this means in the Dangerous Goods world.

The United Nations four-digit hazard number for this is UN 0331, with the corresponding Proper Shipping Name (PSN) being EXPLOSIVE, BLASTING, TYPE B, belonging to Dangerous Goods Class 1 Division 5, or Division 1.5D – the letter D comes at the end due to the compatibility Group it belongs to, for segregation purposes when the need arises.

Also, let us take note that Explosive Division 1.5 stands for “Very insensitive substances, having a mass explosion hazard, which are so insensitive that there is very little probability of ignition or of transition from burning to detonation under normal conditions of transport”.

In every Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of Ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO), the Firefighting measures shown at Section 5 will suggest to the reader DO NOT Fight fire if the Explosive is burning – evacuate all personnel to a safer location.

This statement is also interpreted to mean that when a fire should start at the immediate surroundings of this type of Explosive, timely intervention to fight that fire is possible!

Once it is not the Explosive itself that is on fire, remember we just learnt the Division 1.5 Explosive is such that it is insensitive to the point there is very little probability of ignition or of transition from burning to detonation under normal condition of transport

Was the Driver well informed about this technical nature of the Explosives he was carrying that could have helped him to focus on the ‘first thing first’ in the event of an emergency?

Various witnesses’ accounts proved that when the Driver realised the fire had started underneath his vehicle after crashing with the motor-bike, his initial response was to leave the scene quickly and warn others to stay away.

Ghana Police also confirmed that the Driver even went to a school in the village to inform the teachers about the danger that was to come, and “the schoolchildren were whisked away to safer grounds”.

The Driver might have done his best, but if he had made a timely approach to tackle the fire underneath the truck with a fire extinguisher available first at a time the fire had not gotten to the Explosive container side yet, I believe strongly this catastrophe would have been totally prevented – lives and properties would not have been lost, monies to be spent by the government to restore normal life to the Chief and people of Apiate would have been saved.

Now, the question again: “Who might have broken this Chain unawares?”

Could it be the Shipper/Consignor who may not have presented the Explosives to the Carrier in proper condition or furnished the Carrier with the required transport document such as MSDS? Or could it be the Carrier who failed to check that all was in order before carriage; and that relevant documents were on-board the vehicle, and well understood by the Driver or any other ‘relevant’ person accompanying the goods?  Or could it be the Consignee who was waiting at the other end of the ‘Transportation Chain’ to receive the goods?

Or to a large extent, should we blame it on the lack of enforcement on the part of the industry regulators?

I trust that your guess is as good as mine.

The world is getting more sophisticated every day. Dangerous goods or Hazardous Material play a pivotal role in this sophistication, because almost every hazard we find around us in our daily lives are most likely to have a direct link with least one of the 9 classes of Dangerous goods as classified by the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts.

So, it is imperative that the Government of the Republic of Ghana through the Ministry of Transport and its Agencies – especially the Road transport sector – be proactive in coming out with measures and policies to streamline the carriage of these Dangerous Goods on our roads.

Also, for the sake of public safety, nationwide Dangerous goods awareness programmes in the electronic and print media to educate ordinary Ghanaians about the inherent dangers in the use and transportation of these hazardous materials is highly recommended. This will in no time inform citizens, and they will no longer be curious to pick up their phones and rush to film fire outbreaks involving Explosives and other Dangerous goods items – which can bring calamities upon themselves and cost to the state.

The writer is a Dangerous Goods Consultant at Flashpoint Energy Ghana Ltd.and a former Snr. Dangerous Goods Instructor at Aviance Ghana Ltd.

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