Dealing with chemical and radiological incidents on ships

24 June 2013/Categories: Chemical Events

Responsible partner: Public Health England, Chilton, United Kingdom 

Guidelines for dealing with chemical and radiological incidents on ships

The EU SHIPSAN ACT Joint Action produced guidance on responding to chemical and radiological events due to accidental or deliberate release based on existing guidance (International Maritime Organisation).

The Guidance has been developed to assist public health professionals, port health officers and other relevant agencies that may be notified of an incident of public health concern involving chemicals or radiation. 

In particular, actions focused on the development of guidance for competent authorities in support to their risk assessment and response to chemical and radiological incidents on ships while the ship is at port (with focus on the development of a general risk assessment tool, based on the use of syndromic surveillance principles for the risk assessment of acute health events and those threats caused by unknown agent, making the differential diagnosis of biological, chemical and radiological agents including communicable diseases and focus on cargo ships);

The need to have preparedness plans at the Points of entry (PoE) considering the roles of different stakeholders was addressed.

Likely sources of chemical/radiological exposure on ships were identified. Existing arrangements for notification and alerting (who, what, when and how), risk assessment, response and recovery were incorporated in the guidelines.

The multi sectorial approach guidanc produced:

  • assists in the risk assessment and response measures to be implemented by Points of Entry and 
  • supports International Health Regulation implementation related to contingency planning.
The guidance for competent authorities in support to their risk assessment and response to chemical and radiological incidents on ships while the ship is at port is available for download from here

Training material and table top exercise on dealing with chemical and radiological incidents

Training material on dealing with chemical and radiological incidents developed to accompany the SHIPSAN Guidance document and to assist public health professionals, port health officers and other relevant agencies that may be notified of an incident of public health concern involving chemicals or radiation.

The training material provided is intended to be used to run a full day training workshop and includes:
  • PowerPoint presentations
    • Overview to chemicals and radiation 
    • Radiological incident (Fire on a ferry) 
  • Relevant case studies of chemical and radiological incidents occurring on ships or at port 
  • Additional resources to support participant learning 

The training material is generic by design, which provides flexibility to meet the needs of different MSs and can be tailored to the needs of your own organisation(s). Ideally the materials should be used and delivered by those who have an interest or requirement in supporting the operation of coordinated actions for the response to health threats caused by chemical and radiological hazards, with specialist assistance as required.

A generic table top exercise was developed to provide assistance to the relevant stakeholders and authorities (e.g. public health and port authorities, maritime organisations and environmental agencies) regarding training, planning and preparedness, for a chemical or radiological release. The purpose of the table top exercise is to test the systems and processes that EU MSs have in place.

Contact us if you are interested to receive the training material or table top exercise.
The EU SHIPSAN ACT has a pool of trainers including experts in the field of chemical and radiological events and are available to support national training course upon request.

Bibliographic review and survey on chemical and radiological incidents in maritime transport

Responsible partner: National Institute of Public Health, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain

A bibliographic review and survey was conducted and included:

i) A bibliographic review for chemical or radiological incidents in all types of ships and at ports,
ii) the findings of a survey based on 2 questionnaires:
  • 1st questionnaire identified the competent authorities for chemical and radiological incidents in each MS;
  • 2nd questionnaire was sent to competent authorities to collect information on the current situation in EU regarding practices, legal frame related to chemical/radiological incidents on ships and at ports, events that authorities confronted in the past and the contingency plan that they use. The IMO annex listing of authorities responsible in case of chemical incidents per country, as well as existing work of DG ENV were reviewed.

The survey results indicate that:

  • Legislation and contingency plans are not specific for ships or at ports. Only 29% and 63% of these contingency plans are specific for ships or at port for radiological and chemical events respectively. 
  • Responsible authorities for radiological events are easier to identify than for chemical events.
  • Competent authorities are mainly national authorities. 
  • Competent authorities are not usually health authorities.
  • There is lack of training.
A scientific publication is under preparation and will present the survey results in detail.


Relevant material

  • ARCOPOL (2011). Public health impacts of incidents involving the maritime transportation of hazardous and noxious substances.
  • EU-OSHA. (2011). OSH in figures: Occupational safety and health in the transport sector — An overview.
  • HELCOM. (2002). Response to accidents at sea involving spills of hazardous substances and loss of packaged dangerous goods 
  • HPA (2009). Chemical Hazards and Poisons Report
  • International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code (
  • International Maritime Organization. MSC-MEPC.6/Circ.11 - Annex 2 - list of national operational contact points responsible for the receipt, transmission and processing of urgent reports on incidents involving harmful substances, including oil from ships to coastal states.
  • IMO Marpol convention: Annex II: Regulations for the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances. 
  • International Labour Organization. (1996). Accident prevention on board ship at sea and in port 
  • International Labour Organization. (1996). Recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases.
  • International Labour Organization. (1993). Safety in the use of chemicals at work. 
  • INTERSPILL (2009). Review of chemical spills at sea and lessons learnt. 
  • OECD (2003). OECD Guiding Principles for Chemical Accident Prevention, Preparedness and Response. Guidance for Industry (including Management and Labour), Public Authorities, Communities, and other Stakeholders 
  • United Nations (2011). European Agreement concerning the International carriage of dangerous goods by inland waterways (ADN) including the annexed Regulations, applicable as from 1 January 2011. Volume I and Volume II.
  • WHO (2009). Manual for the Public Health Management of Chemical Incidents.
  • WHO (2005). International Health Regulations (2005) - A guide for public health emergency contingency planning at designated points of entry

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... if you are interested in receiving:
  • Table top exercise: dealing with a chemical incident at port
  • Teaching material for chemical and radiological incidents on ship or at port

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