Everyone in the supply chain is required to be familiar
with the legislation governing the transport of dangerous goods by
In the light of a recent incident involving the shipment of a
dangerous cargo across three continents on two passenger flights,
it is probably timely to remind all involved in such shipments to
check the procedures they have in place for handling dangerous
In this particular case, there was a lack of proper care on the
part of the shipper, freight forwarder and airline.
The packing list prepared by the shipper correctly identified
the cargo as "dangerous goods" by reference to the Proper
Shipping Name, UN Number, Hazard Class (5.1 – Oxidising
Substances) and Packing Group (I – Great Danger).
However, the commercial invoice did not identify the cargo as
The Air Waybill issued by the airline's freight forwarder
also failed to mention the dangerous nature of the cargo. As a
consequence, the cargo was shipped on two passenger flights instead
of on the required cargo-only flights and also handled by ground
crew at the connecting airport unaware of the dangerous nature of
the consignment. In fact, the description of the goods on the Air
Waybill produced by the airline's agent did not accord with the
description on either the packing list or the commercial invoice
and would not have alerted anyone as to the nature of the
The cargo in question explodes on contact with water. However,
there was probably little likelihood of a serious incident
occurring because the containment vessels would have had to be
breached and then the outside packaging. In addition, there would
need to have been water present in the aircraft cargo hold.
The point is, though, that carelessness at several stages gave
rise to a potential risk to airline passengers and aircraft.
What is the law on shipping dangerous goods?
It is important to note that, regardless of who prepares the Air
Waybill, it is the shipper who states:
"Shipper certifies that the particulars on the face hereof
are correct and that insofar as any part of the consignment
contains dangerous goods, such part is properly described by name
and is in proper condition for carriage by air according to the
applicable Dangerous Goods Regulations."
From a global perspective, Annex 18 of the Chicago Convention
contains the policy on the carriage of dangerous good by air. This
is supplemented by ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe
Transport of Dangerous Goods, which have been implemented in
Australia. In many cases, airlines follow the IATA Dangerous Goods
Regulations, which improve on the ICAO instructions in some
The relevant Australian legislation is the Civil Aviation Act
1988 and Regulations made under that Act. Section 23 deals with the
consignment of dangerous goods on board aircraft, while section 23A
concerns statements concerning the contents of cargo.
What you need to do
Everyone in the supply chain is required to be familiar with the
legislation governing the transport of dangerous goods by air.
Purely from a risk management point of view, shippers need to
pay particular attention to their procedures for:
identifying and describing dangerous goods
labelling dangerous goods
packing dangerous goods (and double-checking if an external
contractor is being used for this purpose)
They also need to ensure uniformity in identifying and
describing dangerous goods across all relevant documentation,
including packing slips and commercial invoices, as well as in
Customs, insurance and other related records.
Whether the shipper or carrier is using a freight forwarder, the
shipper needs to double-check the correctness of the Air Waybill.
This is even more important now that electronic signatures are
widely used. The reason for this step should be obvious.
Finally, carriers need to ensure themselves, as happens in
shipping, that the goods are correctly described, properly packed
and correctly identified as dangerous or not.
Normally, only the Air Waybill is carried by the airline, but
surely it is a better practice to keep a set of documentation
together, which may become a useful tool when the airline is
undertaking its checks prior to loading the cargo.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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