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Containership Safety: Let’s get back to basics

Containership Safety: Let’s get back to basics

Cursory analysis of casualty statistics in the global shipping industry will show that while the number of individual cases is dropping – a phenomenon attributed to many factors such as slow steaming, better training, vessels out of service due to being in lay-up etc. – the propensity for that one casualty to be a large one is still very clearly there.

And with today’s containerships topping the 22,000 TEU mark, a casualty involving these vessels would not only hit the global news headlines but could pose serious difficulties to salvors employed to sort the problem out. You just need to look at the MSC Napoli and Rena casualties for proof of this.

But prevention is always better than cure and careful and effective management and operation of the vessel is often key to maintaining vessel safety and avoiding a major incident.

Robert Maxwell, Managing Director of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore), is adamant that while training and effective crew selection for the job remain key components of a robust management process, understanding the characteristics of a particular vessel and how it may react in a given situation can be crucial in avoiding accidents and casualties.

“The fact that container ships, bulk carriers and a few other vessel types are all classed by the industry as ‘other cargo ships’, has become a problem when the reality now is that the crew onboard these ships, and the teams ashore supporting them, must have an in-depth knowledge of the container ( or bulk ) business, whether that is to do with stowage or container lashing or, indeed, the reefer container side of the business,” he said.

And these larger containerships can also have their own operational and cargo-related problems. Due to the larger beam on the vessels they can have an inherently high GM meaning they can be subject to high lashing forces and shorter rolling periods. In order to mitigate this, software used for the calculation of the lashing forces has to be verified preferably by Class.

The cargo planners also have to be in sync with the vessel; pre-plans have to be sent to the vessel prior to arrival to verify and identify potential problems. Indeed, there have been times in the past when containers have had to be turned away due to excessive lashing forces which would lead to potential claims from charterers and could reduce the viability of the vessel in the current market. Mr Maxwell again: “One of the big factors is understanding the characteristics of the ship because they vary significantly. There used to be a time when if you were going to fully load the vessel, you would have an issue when it came to low stability. As an industry, we understood that and we managed it quite nicely.

“But you now have a whole group of ships which have too much stability, so the stresses on the lashing gear when they start to roll are going the other way to the extent that these ships are flipping themselves back upright. There seems to be a widening variation on how these ships are built and at what end of the spectrum they fit into. But I believe that the larger ones have drifted back to the ‘reasonable stability’ range while the 8,000 TEU units still remain quite stiff when it comes to stability,” he said.

As Mr Maxwell contended, there can also be big differences between ships of the same size. “We have two sister vessels whose bridge was built forward while a third ship, built to exactly the same size but at a different yard, had the bridge aft which can mean differences in manoeuvring characteristics. We do a lot of simulator training to ensure the officers going onboard are fully trained in the characteristic of the vessel they will be working on. Simulator work is a key part of our training strategy, especially if a senior officer is going from one vessel size to another,” he said.

The other area where we have concerns is with cargo fires. Traditional onboard techniques and equipment are hard pressed to deal with cargo fires on large container ships and we are working with other industry partners to suggest sensible and practical enhancements to ships equipment to help the crew deal with these situations which are becoming more and more common. The old ideas of driving a spike into a container to flood it are totally impractical in most cases as just getting to the affected box safely is nearly impossible, never mind trying to drive a spike in on a rolling ship wearing a BA set!


Published in 'Safety at Sea' (September 2016 issue)