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30 years ago
A look back at HCB’s April 1982 issue
Oftentimes this column remarks that coverage of the dangerous goods business of 30 years ago is remarkably similar to that of today. This month things are different. Looking at the April 1982 number takes us straight back to the cold war era and Frankie’s Two Tribes (though that was two years later).
On page 6, for a start, there was a piece about President Reagan’s budget cuts and, in particular, the impact on the then Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) – the forerunner of PHMSA. It had been proposed that staff from the Materials Transportation Bureau (MTB) would no longer be allowed to travel overseas, which would have meant the US no longer having attendance or influence at the international regulatory meetings at the UN, ICAO or IMCO (now IMO).
There are some parallels with this today, with the Obama administration placing restrictions on new regulatory initiatives, but the actions of two years ago – when Dr Bob Richard was summarily relieved of his duties at PHMSA and lost his position as chairman of the UN Sub-committee of Experts – are still having an impact on the US’s standing in the international fora.
Another name to pop out from the pages of the April 1982 HCB was that of the USSR, in an article on the “new Soviet standard” for classification and labelling. On closer reading there appears to be nothing obviously ‘Soviet’ about the standard, it being based almost entirely on the UN system.
The issue’s two major articles covered plastics drums and maritime emergency response. The first highlighted the new-fangled ‘L-ring’ drum design that had arrived in the UK from Germany and was promising to revolutionise the sector and encourage switching from larger steel drums. The issue looked at production by Bowater Drums and Harcostar, two UK competitors that later became one and the same; Bowater acquired Harcostar three years later and was itself subsequently amalgamated into Rexam plc.
It was Harcostar that had first produced the Mauser L-ring drum in the UK. Its design allowed the drum to be larger than others already on the market but industry was slow to recognise the potential. However, Harcostar reported that by 1982 demand had opened up and it was planning to double production capacity at its Huntingdon plant.
The maritime response coverage in the issue headlined the grounding of the coastal containership Craigantlet, which ran aground on rocks in Scotland at the end of February 1982. Initially this seemed to be a fairly minor event, but it was quickly learned that one tank container on deck was carrying potassium methyl sulphate, a Class 6 toxic product. The tank’s operator, Titank, provided details about the product and the hazards it presented.
However, the vessel’s owners delayed the salvage response by hesitating to sign the Lloyd’s Open Form. Instead, they sought to declare general average, a process that involved 92 different underwriters. Still, with the ship on the rocks and going nowhere, there was little the Department of Trade or the port authority could do.
Then the weather turned; heavy seas pounded the hull, broke the lashings of the deck cargo and tipped boxes and tank containers onto the rocky shoreline, rupturing many of the tanks. Despite the best actions of a response crew, who struggled to cope on the rocks made slippery by 40 tonnes of butter that had fallen out of one containers, the toxic product ended up spilling to the sea. The vessel itself was declared a constructive total loss.
Such a scenario would not be played out today; in the aftermath of Lord Donaldson’s reports into the Sea Empress and Braer groundings, the Secretary of State’s Representative would step in immediately and take control of the situation.
So some things do change, and for the better.