Palm kernel shells

Palm kernel shells – the dangers of sea transport in solid bulk form

Published: 23 May 2024

BIMCO issues timely reminder to warn of the dangers associated with the sea transport of palm kernel shells in solid bulk form under the IMSBC Code.

We have received information of a recent incident this month at the port of Ishinomaki, Japan where two workers (stevedores) working in the cargo holds of a bulker ship carrying palm kernel shells were found unconscious during cargo operations. The incident appeared to be sudden and unexpected. One worker is reported to be in critical condition at the hospital whilst the other has since recovered.  

Whilst the Japanese Coast Guard is investigating the casualty in particular whether there is a link between palm kernel shells cargo and the incident of the workers, we would like to take the opportunity to remind members of the dangers associated with the carriage of palm kernel shells also known as PKS cargo. 

Palm kernel shells are woody shell fibrous fragments of brownish-yellow in colour with particle sizes ranging normally from 5 mm to 40 mm. It is not clear whether they are obtained after completion of the palm oil extraction process or before the commencement of such process.   

The most obvious danger is that it is a cargo that is not listed in the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code so there is clearly no proper carriage requirements set out to enable this cargo to be transported safely in bulk. From previous incidents in 2015 and 2016, the carriage of palm kernel shells presents many dangerous hazards. For example, this cargo can emit high levels of methane (flammable gas) that can lead to explosion hazards. It is also liable to self-heat resulting in oxygen depletion and production of carbon monoxide in cargo spaces. Both methane and carbon monoxide gases are colourless and odourless making these gases particularly dangerous as both are capable of acting as an asphyxiant, and when inhaled, it deprives the body of oxygen needed to breathe causing unconsciousness. This poses a serious risk to the safety of crew or anyone entering the cargo spaces as well as adjacent areas.  

In addition, this cargo is often confused with “palm kernel expellers”, a different cargo even though both are by-products of palm oil processing. Palm kernel expellers are carried under the seed cake cargo schedules in the IMSBC Code. To ship palm kernel shells in solid bulk form, a tripartite agreement in accordance with section 1.3 of the IMSBC Code will be required as it is a cargo that is not listed in the IMSBC Code.  

For full information about this cargo, the dangers associated with it and the recommended carriage requirements for ship owners and operators, please go to our BIMCO cargo section / palm kernel shells (members only).

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Ai Cheng Foo-Nielsen


Ai Cheng Foo-Nielsen

Manager, Maritime Information

Copenhagen, Denmark