Namport dispel concern over ammonium nitrate at its docks

By Magreth Nunuhe

WINDHOEK – The Namibian Ports Authority (Namport) says that it takes all the necessary precautions and strict handling measures to ensure the safety of how ammonium nitrate must be packed, shipped, handled and evacuated from its port.

The port authority gave the assurance since ammonium nitrate has a risk of being used as explosives, if it were to land in the wrong hands.

Safety concerns have been raised over the last few years globally, following reports of misuse of ammonium nitrate in terror activities and the need for tightening importation of the chemical.

Even though ammonium nitrate may not be immediately hazardous or explosive depending on the grade, the difference in grade can be easily overcome by using emulsifiers.

The chemical is usually used for fertilizers and triggering blasts in mines and quarries.

Namport has so far received its first two shipments of break bulk ammonium nitrate (one thousand tonness each) for the Husab Mine at Namibia’s coast, and is offloading the second shipment at the quayside.

The Namibian Explosives Regulations classify ammonium nitrate as Class 1 (as an explosive) even though the International Maritime Organisation’s Dangerous Goods Code, the product is classified as a Class 5.1.

Tanà Pesat, Namport’s Corporate Communications Manager, said to mitigate the risk of importing the product, Namport has done a detailed risk assessment on the handling of the product.

Ammonium nitrate is imported to Namibia either as a containerised or breaks bulk cargo and some of the safety measures, according to Namport, include analysis of the product, stowage surveys, quality of packing material, offloading methods and requirements for transportation companies carting the product from the port to the mine.

“Namport has visited other ports that already successfully handled this product for years and Namport did that in consultation with the Nambian Police’s Explosives Unit drafted safe working procedures for both containerised and break bulk ammonium nitrate,” she explained.

Pesat said that various planning meetings were conducted with all stakeholders involved before arrival of a shipment, including the vessel agent, the importer, logistics’ company, Namibian Police, local traffic authorities and the municipality.

“After each consignment received, a debriefing meeting is held with all parties present to analyse and improve the operations. During offloading, Namport’s Safety Department, Security and Emergency Services and the Namibian Police Explosives Unit is present 24/7 to monitor that operations are conducted as per the safe work procedures,” added Pesat.

She noted that Namport also does not allow the break bulk product to be stored in the port and must be evacuated immediately upon landing, while a 24 hour fire watch is maintained by both Namport Emergency Services and Marine Services (Tugs).

All Namibian mining companies have, to date, imported ammonium nitrate from South Africa by road.

According to Pesat, the local shipping industry approached Namport more than a year ago, regarding the importation of ammonium nitrate.

Namport started with a major research project, which included visiting other ports which handle the product and in conjunction with the Namibia Police’s Explosives Unit, they drafted their own procedure on how to safely handle ammonium nitrate.

During the first quarter of 2017, Namport was given the green light to import by the explosives unit and on 31 July 2017 the first shipment of 1,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate arrived in Namibia.

On average, between 2,000 and 2,250 vessels visit the ports of Walvis Bay and Lüderitz every year on the western coast of Namibia, of which container vessels account for the largest number of visits.

Walvis Bay’s Namport is connected with good shipping services that provide an option for shippers from Europe and North Americ to supply bulk, containerised and breakbulk shipments such as abnormal loads to neighbouring countries in the Southern African region and has also become an important node for the region as minerals through the port from DRC and Zambia increase.

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