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Segregation of dangerous goods under the IMDG Code and Master’s personal liability for violations

Can a Master be personally held liable for IMDG segregation conflicts arising due to an error in the software used onboard for DG checks?

During a routine DG check on the vessel in Rotterdam, the authorities noticed that containers with dangerous cargoes UN 2357 and UN 2922 had been stowed adjacent to each other. This was in violation of the IMDG Code which required these CTUs to have a certain minimum separation between them as per SG35. A well-known software, MACS3, was being used by the crew for DG checks. Although the software had been updated with the latest IMDG Code amendments (39-18) at the time, it failed to check for this violation due to some error.


No checks had also been carried out manually for compliance with the IMDG Code’s segregation requirements. There was also evidence that the software had resulted in non-compliance with other provisions of the Code. The primary function of this software was to check for stowage, stability, and lashing, not for DG checks. Master was looking at a fine of 3,000 Euros or 40 days of detention here. The argument against him was that the Master is ultimately responsible for all such violations, no matter the reason.


As per the Rotterdam District Court, an error in the software cannot be grounds for penalizing a Master personally. It is the responsibility of the company and not the Master to ensure that the software used for DG checks is fit for purpose. The Court also commented that it is perhaps not feasible for a Master of a large container ship to manually check the segregation requirements for all DG containers onboard.





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