Unsafe berths for container ships

Andrew Craig-Bennett
26th February 2010, 10:44
You may say "what is he wittering on about" because by definition a gearless container ship is only ever going to berth with cargo aboard at a dedicated terminal, where the berth has been laid out properly, so there can't be a problem, can there?

Well, there can, if you are trying to shoe-horn the biggest possible ship into the berth pocket, and with the recent very rapid rise in sizes we are now using Post-Panamaxes on routes where we were using 3,000 TEU ships or smaller, three years ago.

We have had a couple of incidents where frankly the way the bow and stern springs had to be set was unsafe and the ship moved on the berth.

Which leads to the next issue; container ships are now the size of a Suezmax tanker or a Capesize bulker but with far more windage...yet unlike the tanker industry there is no practice of logging the condition of mooring warps, and no special training or guidance on mooring is given.

I can assure you that demolishing a container crane is not cheaper than uprooting a Chiksan!

26th February 2010, 10:57
I agree Andrew, I was wondering when the Super Boxer owners and Managers were going to wake up. Rotterdam has extended and extended the jib length of their cranes to the maximum, at least most of the crane owners had the foresight to to build the bases and undercarriage to a much heavier spec back in 1970. I've been away from the Rotterdam quays for the last 16 years, but I still keep as up to date as possible.

27th February 2010, 08:16
I agree that many container berths leave a lot to be desired. On one of my regular calls we have about 80 metres of ship overhanging the end of the quay. Not a hope in hell of a decent lead. What annoys me more is the inadequate provision for access to the ship. Crane rails are invariably too close to the edge of the quay to allow the gangway to be landed.
In my company we do carry out regular inspections of all moorings. However I agree about the poor training. But isn't this partly because people are not around long enough these days to gain on-the-job experience? Cadets spend too little time doing hands-on seamanship; Officers are promoted too rapidly; And the whole mooring operation is rushed to get the ship working cargo as quickly as possible - very often the cranes commence discharge before 'stations' has stood down. Mad!

27th February 2010, 10:19
Andrew is correct. Safe mooring of large container vessels has been neglected over many years. If you consider all the research done by the Tanker Industry and OCIMF back in the 1970's to determine what is a safe mooring, it is surprising that it has taken so long for the container vessel and terminal operators to wake up to this issue. After all, if the mooring system fails, the transfer system is likely to fail with all the added damage and cost involved. I recall from the early 1980's that the oil majors were lobbying the classification societies to make moorings a Class item but to the best of my knowledge they were not successful. At least one oil major publishes minimum mooring standards which are rigourously applied and OCIMF published detailed guidelines many years ago. It is only recently that more general guidelines have been published by the Nautical Institute. A safe mooring is not a question of using best practice or experience, it is a predetermined retention capability for the size of vessl involed taking full account of the windage and any inherent currents. There are far too many marginal quays where the planners and operators clearly fail to appreciate this fact. In my view these berths are unsafe.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
27th February 2010, 13:33
It is a huge relief to find that I am not "on my own" here - thanks, chaps.

A part of the problem may be that many of the larger ships are owned by the lines using them rather than on timecharter so there is no charter party with a "safe berth" clause in it as there is for tankers and bulkers, which tends to focus the mind a bit.

What we often have is a company ordering its own ships onto a berth at a terminal with which it has a Terminal User Agreement which makes the shipowner liable for all and any damage to the Terminal's equipment (eg linesmen's van window broken by a monkey's fist on a heaving line because the idle so-and-so's had parked it in the line of fire - genuine recent example from a UK terminal!) but which absolves the Terminal from any liability to the vessel, so it all comes down to "blame the Master", which is not my preferred solution to any safety issue!

2nd March 2010, 18:00
...and also many terminals do not supply adequate mooring gangs to handle the larger lines of larger ships - typically on a panamax we see an average of a hour per (8 hour) port call lost due to this, so that the money the terminal saves on smaller mooring gangs is lost many times over by the owner and operator (and this loss indirectly affects our pay!)

7th March 2010, 03:21
During the Iraq War (2003) we had to bring a large container ship into Kuwait harbor to discharge military cargo (both American an British). Although she wasn't Panamax, she was still too large for the available terminal facilities. We could only get in and out of the harbor at high water. Also, when tied up to the dock her bow or stern stuck out at least 150 feet beyond the end of the dock, which meant that we were always tied up without any head or stern lines (depending upon whether we were tied up bow-in or bow-out). In the event of bad weather we'd have been in real trouble. Fortunately, however, the only really high winds we experienced during that period were in Dubai, where docking space wasn't at a premium and proper leads were available.

Another container port I would characterize as dangerously sub-standard would be Bar, in Montenegro. We had been sent there to discharge famine relief supplies destined for Kosovo on behalf of the U.N. The port had only a single crane, which wasn't long enough to reach more than 2/3 of the way across the deck (our ship had a beam of 100 feet) and wasn't tall enough to handle any containers loaded higher than the third row above the main deck. They also had no trucks for handling the containers on the dock, only a couple of farm tractors! At that time, early in 1999, Bar was supposedly the only seaport available in Yugoslavia because, by then, all the rest were in newly-independent Croatia. Years earlier I had been to Rijecka, which was then in Yugoslavia but is currently in Croatia. Rijecka was a much larger, more modern and far better-equipped port than Bar, so I have no doubt that the Yugoslavians were capable of providing far better facilities than were made available at Bar.