In February [Fireworks Business #265, February, 2006], I outlined an argument that 1.3 explosive materials be regulated separately and distinctly from other explosives, such as commercial explosives or military explosives. Essentially, I argued that for a variety of reasons users of 1.3 products should be relieved from the burden of complying with the more stringent regulations that govern users of 1.1 and 1.2 products.

My reference to the Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME), albeit brief, has recently prompted a written response from that organization, and a copy of it has been published in this journal. I read the letter with great interest, and have the following observations.

My unfamiliarity with commercial explosives is seemingly matched by the IME’s unfamiliarity with the fireworks industry. While the IME has selected Enschede, Netherlands, and a recent incident in the Chinese port of Changsa, as two examples where fireworks caused destruction, each of those incidents occurred outside the United States and, consequently, beyond regulation by U.S. agencies.

Interestingly, with respect to Enschede, I have no reason to disagree with the IME’s observation that it “would not have happened if the Dutch government had applied ATF’s controls on the classification and storage of fireworks.” I would also add that transportation of fireworks from China to, in this instance, Holland, is not subject to compliance with DOT regulations; in fact, European countries have many different laws that can easily be bypassed by properly selecting the country of entry.

However, for the following reasons I respectfully disagree with the IME when it suggests that “[a]n explosion of a container of fireworks in the Chinese port of Changsa on May 17th this year resulted in all but one carrier to refusing [sic] to ship any Division 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 materials across the Pacific.”

First and foremost, the decision to stop accepting explosive materials came in March, following the fire on the M/V Hyundai Fortune; consequently, the Changsa incident had no influence upon this decision. Presently, the cause of the fire aboard the M/V Hyundai Fortune has not yet been conclusively determined by investigators, and may never be. All undamaged cargo was unloaded and the vessel was put up for sale, ‘as is’. Notwithstanding, the consensus among experts eliminates fireworks as the cause of the damage.

For example, according to Captain Wade Armstrong (Master, USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) on station in the Gulf of Aden), a photo analysis of the vessel shows what appears to be a significant section of hull plating blown out above the waterline on the port side, under the accommodation and aft deck. If this is accurate, there might have been an explosion inside a tank, as opposed to an explosion in a container.

Other experts opined that the damage was too great for fireworks; indeed, Lloyds marine intelligence has discounted the fireworks theory due to the explosion being too powerful. Another theory involves incorrectly stored or declared hazardous cargo; it is common knowledge that some shippers purposefully misdeclare consignments in order to ship prohibited cargo, at enormous peril to life and property. Some suggest that the carrier may have been transporting items it would prefer never to declare.

In these times of global unrest, one cannot eliminate the possibility of a terrorist act (the vessel was traveling in the Gulf of Aden some 43 miles off the coast of Yemen), a mine or sabotage. Accordingly, in the interest of fairness, more information and further investigation is needed to determine the exact source of the fire. All of the information regarding the M/V Hyundai Fortune information is readily accessed on the Internet websites maintained by Cargolaw, APL and the TT Club. By contrast, none of the statistics provided by the IME are accompanied by a specific, as opposed to a general, citation to the source of the information. For that reason, I can neither verify nor refute the statistics cited by the IME.

Practically speaking, the interests of all explosives users would be better served were it ultimately to be determined that the cause of the fire aboard the M/V Hyundai Fortune was something other than fireworks. For the IME to ‘pin it’ upon fireworks, without any credible proof, has the effect of fueling a carrier’s decision to refuse shipment of all explosives. There may be more than a shred of truth to the claim that carriers have been looking for a convenient excuse to ban explosives in favor of more benign items; the demand for space upon cargo vessels leaving China is insatiable and producers would prefer not to have their products shipped alongside explosive materials.

The fact that neither incident cited by the IME occurred within the United States speaks volumes about the positive safety record of fireworks within the United States. Suffice it to say, both the APA and the IME share a mutual concern regarding the use of explosive materials within the borders of the United States and its territories. To its credit, the IME has fostered a long tradition of working with the APA, among others. In my opinion, the industries that each of these organizations represent face enough regulatory challenges without challenging each other.

Postscript: The IME has expressly invited me to contact it to coordinate efforts to draw more distinctions between fireworks and commercial explosives. To that end, I have called J. Christopher Ronay, IME’s president, twice, and I am hopeful that my messages will be returned. I am also hopeful that I will have more to report about our mutual efforts to separate the fireworks industry from the commercial explosives industry.

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