Tank Container Cleaning Prompts Unique Circumstances

March 1, 2000
Internet Technology Offers Answers to Communication Problems Certain aspects unique to cleaning tank containers must be addressed by the industry, said

Internet Technology Offers Answers to Communication Problems Certain aspects unique to cleaning tank containers must be addressed by the industry, said Hugo Kerkhofs, president of the European Federation of Tank Cleaning Organizations (EFTCO). With the use of the Internet and other means of technology available, he predicted that some of the problems can be eased by better communication within the industry.

One way to ease some of the problems is for tank cleaning facilities and depots to be in direct communication with each other and the companies that control the tank containers. The widening use of the Internet can be an excellent tool for better communication, he said. As more cleaning facilities and depots are linked with owners, lessors, and operators, more problem solving is expected to occur.

Kerkhofs discussed tank cleaning issues at the European Petrochemical Association 26th Logistics Meeting November 28-December 1, 1999, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

"A tank cleaning, one could call it a tank reconditioning, is required before repair or before loading," he said. "Basically, the same applies for tank trucks and rail tank cars. However, some very specific problems characterize the tank container."

Tank containers have larger dimensions than tank trailers or rail cars, which means they may not fit into cleaning bays that were designed before tank containers became well established. Specifically designed spinners are required for containers.

A particularly trying concern for the tank cleaning facility is deciding who orders the cleaning. While tank trailers and rail cars are usually controlled by an owner or a lessor, tank containers may have several different parties claiming (or denying) oversight. That leaves the cleaning facility more open to liability than might otherwise be the case because responsibility is not clearly defined. In addition, liability issues are of particular concern because of hazardous materials that may be involved.

"The parties providing the services cleaning tank containers are exposed to a business risk that far exceeds its revenue," he said. "As a consequence of unresolved liability questions, we believe we have a growing concern."

He recalled an incident in which a group of tank containers arrived for cleaning at a facility, but one was improperly labeled, which eventually resulted in an expensive cleanup for the cleaning company.

"Moreover, it was extremely difficult to identify the ultimate responsible party: a Dutch tank hauler was taking care of the cleaning bill within his transport duty at a German cleaning station of a tank just off lease by an American lessor," he said. "The ownership of the tank was transferred in that period from a Swiss-based owner to another offshore company. That meant it was bad luck for the tank cleaner."

Kerkhofs called for the establishment of standards that can be used by tank cleaning facilities, tank container operators, and their customers. EFTCO is working on a program that will provide a cleaning certificate that can be issued.

"In some countries, such as France, a cleaning certificate covers chemical product flows. The food industry is keen on working with the document in order to keep control over previous cargoes," he said.

Where possible, common standards for numbering or coding of cleaning procedures will be developed. "Such codification aims at an international understanding of the tank cleaning operation," he said. "It would be a useful standard for the tank container operators for their own information and for translating the operation towards their customer.

"Despite the improvements, we believe there is still a lot of work to do as the number of ISO tank containers around the world will keep on growing."