The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are monitoring vessels and cargo departing the port complex in Tianjin, China, on or after Aug. 12 due to concerns that they may be contaminated with potentially hazardous ash, debris or residues from the recent explosions at that facility. Entry may be denied to any vessel determined to present an unacceptable risk.

A Coast Guard bulletin states that there have been no reports of confirmed hazardous debris or residues onboard impacted vessels (those that were in the Tianjin port complex, or that have loaded cargo or containers that were in the Tianjin port complex, at the time of the first explosion on Aug. 12 through Aug. 15). However, such vessels are expected to call on U.S. ports over the next several weeks, and U.S. companies are looking for reassurances regarding the health and safety of those who handle shipping containers across the supply chain.

As a result, any suspected hazardous conditions, illnesses, or unknown substances or residues should be reported to the nearest Coast Guard captain of the port as soon as possible. Owners and operators of impacted vessels bound for U.S. ports should assess the following criteria to determine if COTP notification is warranted.

- the location of the vessel or cargo within the port of Tianjin during the time window of concern

- the operations that were ongoing, such as loading or discharging of cargo

- whether or not any cargo bays, holds or external doors were open, particularly those not regularly exposed to the elements

- the status of the cargo or containers held within cargo bays or holds within the time window of concern

- whether the vessel received any visible ash, debris or residue on deck, within ventilation, in between containers, or on any other part of the ship following the explosions

- whether any persons onboard have been experiencing any ill health effects subsequent to the explosions for unknown reasons or due to exposure to substances from the explosions

- whether an impacted vessel has undertaken measures to test for potentially hazardous substances, including any sampling taken (the bulletin notes that while there is not yet available a comprehensive list of chemicals that were involved in the Tianjin incident, several hazardous chemicals are reported to have been in the main warehouse, including sodium cyanide and calcium carbide)

- weather conditions experienced en route

The COTP has the authority to deny a vessel entry into a U.S. port or direct vessel movement to a safe location should the COTP determine that the vessel poses an unacceptable risk to the safety of the port or the environment. The bulletin states that while the mere presence of a vessel or cargo in Tianjin on or after Aug. 12 does not necessarily mean it was exposed and has a hazardous condition, COTPs will consider the factors listed above when determining whether a vessel or cargo may constitute a risk and the appropriate course of action.

To help minimize potential shipping delays, representatives of impacted vessels should therefore be prepared to demonstrate to the COTP and CBP authorities the actions they have taken to ensure that no hazardous conditions exist onboard their vessels or with the cargo as a result of the explosions. Federal experts are currently developing guidelines for sample testing to facilitate those efforts and that guidance will be disseminated through COTPs as soon as possible.

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