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Transporting dangerous & noxious liquids in bulk - Chemical tanker guide


Chemical tanker at sea


The range of chemicals shipped in bulk has increased enormously in modern days and a special class of ships has been developed to meet this need - the chemical tankers.

Chemical Tanker operations differ from any other liquid bulk transportation, in that a large number of cargoes of different properties and characteristics and inherent hazards may be carried simultaneously, on a single voyage, and that numerous products may be handled at one berth, typically including both discharge and loading as well as tank cleaning. Even the less sophisticated chemical tankers are more complex to operate than oil tankers.

A bulk liquid storage terminal has so many operations taking place, each with individual and critical disciplines: tanks, drumming, packaging, road and rail, ships, barges, waste water, emergency response, etc., all requiring the application of best industry practice. Information exists, but from so many sources that it is fragmented and often difficult to locate; no single publication brings the data together in one volume of internationally consistent best practice. Our website will provide valuable knowledge and insight for those who work in the chemical distribution industry, and beyond.

Our guideline and safety tips will be of particular value to those working in: Chemical Handling, Chemical Storage, Liquefied Chemical Suppliers, Chemical Shipping, Chemical Transportation, Chemical Terminals, Bulk Chemical Services and Chemical Processing.

Transportation of bulk chemicals by sea not only requires specialist ships and equipment, but also specialist crew training, both theoretical and practical, in order for those involved to understand the characteristics of the various chemicals and be aware of the potential hazards involved in handling them. A particularly important aspect of this requirement is the provision of a data sheet, or cargo information form, giving details specific to a substance, to be held on board whenever that substance is carried by the ship .

A modern chemical tanker is primarily designed to carry some of the several hundred hazardous products now covered by the IMO Bulk Chemical Codes. The following general types of chemical carriers have developed since the trade began:
  • Sophisticated parcel chemical tankers:
    Typically up to 40,000 tonnes deadweight with multiple small cargo tanks - up to 54 - each with an individual pump and a dedicated pipeline, to carry small parcels of high grade chemicals. These ships have a significant proportion of the cargo tanks made with stainless steel, allowing maximum flexibility to carry cargoes that need their quality safeguarded.


  • Product / chemical tankers:
    Of similar size to parcel tankers but with fewer cargo tanks, mostly of coated steel rather than stainless, and less sophisticated pump and line arrangements. Such ships carry the less difficult chemicals, and also trade extensively with clean oil products.

  • Specialised chemical carriers:
    Small to medium sized ships, often on dedicated trades and usually carrying a single cargo such as an acid, molten sulphur, molten phosphorus, methanol, fruit juice, palm oil and wine. Cargo tanks are coated or stainless steel according to the trade.


Transportation of bulk chemicals through above types tankers do not only require special hardwork, but also special crew training, both theoretical and practical, in order for them to understand the characteristics of the various chemicals and be aware of the potential hazards involved in handling them.

Detailed hazards of particular substances are provided in material safety data sheets (MSDS) and in the publications such as the USCG Chemical Data Guide for Bulk Carriage by Ships.

The purpose of this site is to provide up to date information on recognised good practice for ships carrying hazardous and noxious liquid chemicals in bulk . The recommendations cannot cover every possible situation that may be encountered on a chemical tanker, but they do provide wide general guidance on safe procedures and safe working practices when handling and transporting chemicals in bulk.

It should also be borne in mind that in all cases the advice given may be subject to local or national regulations, and that terminal operators have their own safety procedures which could affect cargo handling operations and the measures to be adopted in emergencies. The master and all personnel must be aware of and comply with those regulations and procedures. Their existence will be highlighted by the use of the Ship/Shore Safety Checklist which, together with its guidelines for completion, remains a fundamental part of establishing safe conditions for transport by sea of chemicals in bulk.


Following reference publications provide useful guidance and international regulations for carrying hazardous chemicals at sea.

  • SOLAS (latest consolidated edition)
  • MARPOL 73/78 (latest consolidated edition)
  • BCH / IBC Code
  • International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT)
  • Tanker Safety Guide (Chemicals)
  • Ship to Ship Transfer Guide (Petroleum)
  • Safety in Oil Tankers
  • Safety in Chemical Tankers
  • IMDG Code
  • Supplement to IMDG Code (Including MFAG and Ems)
  • SOPEP
  • Clean Seas Guide for Oil Tankers
  • FOSFA (for Oils, Seeds and Fats)
  • Prevention of Oil Spillage through Cargo Pumproom Sea Valves
  • CHRIS Guide (USCG)
  • Chemical Data Guide for Bulk Shipment by Water (Condensed Chris)
  • MSDS for particular cargo carried
  • Chemical Tank Cleaning Guide


Our detail pages contain somewhat larger lists of resources where you may find more useful information.







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Although every effort have been taken to make the information on this website as accurate as possible , we cannot take responsibility for any errors or inadequate data .If you are looking more about chemical tankers procedure please visit IMO official website www.imo.org
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Shipboard safe practice relating to seagoing chemical tankers