Stack Profiling – Hazard Avoidance in Container Yards

  • Date: 03/12/2015

Leading insurance provider to the international freight transport industry, TT Club is always interested in risk avoidance.  Container stacks often present a hazard to a mis-directed crane or forklift.  In this article TT’s Risk Management Director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox examines the possibilities of effectively engineering out such incidents to the benefit of the container handling equipment driver, terminal operator, cargo owner and insurer alike.

It is not uncommon during terminal operations – in the yard and on the ship – for the spreader, or the container attached thereto, to collide with stacked containers. Often resulting from operator error, such incidents can be extremely costly and cause serious operational difficulties. Yet the proliferation of these dangerous incidents has been potentially effectively engineered out through the development of stack profiling technology.

Given generally strong throughput in container terminals today, space constraints and increasing demands of ship turn-around times, it may be inevitable that handling equipment will collide with containers in a stack, either in the container yard or on the ship itself. TT Club has carried out an analysis of over 7,000 insurance claims, each costing more than US$10,000, with the intention of highlighting vulnerabilities to operators in the supply chain. Such claims experience has concluded that crane and lifting equipment collisions in cargo handling facilities have cost in the region of US$34 million within the period under analysis.  This represents in excess of 500 incidents which have occurred in the period 2009-2014. 

The risks associated with this hazard are wide ranging – from more minor incidents of physical damage to the box alone through to fatalities.  Containers and cargo being lost overboard from the ship at the berth can also result from such collisions. In addition to container and cargo damage or bodily injuries, consider the potential of business disruption, delaying operations and ship schedules, as well as probable damage to the handling equipment. Other aspects may be less quantifiable, such as the potential exposure to reputational damage and the overhead of managements’ investigation and resolution.

These incidents occur both land and water side, wherever handling equipment is being operated to reposition either loaded or empty containers. TT Club’s claims experience reveals containers knocked off existing stacks on board a berthed ship during loading and discharge operations by quay cranes. Similarly, there have been numerous incidents land side on the quay apron and the yard where rubber-tired gantry cranes, rail-mounted gantries and reach-stackers dislodge containers.

Driven by the existence of and, to a degree, inevitability associated with the risk, technology has been developed over several years with a view to engineering out the possibility of a stack collision. It is now possible, with appropriate selection and installation of what is widely recognised as stack profiling technology, for such incidents to be totally prevented.

Automated yard cranes are installed with sensors and software to record where each container is located in a given container stack. Lasers, the primary technology used, are mounted on the handling equipment and are constantly measuring distance from the machine to the container stack. An accompanying on board computer processes the reported measurements along with telemetry from the handling equipment, and monitors the movement of the spreader. When a potential obstacle is recognised, the system works to prevent an accident. The same technology used in automated settings is available to support manual operations.

TT Club collaborates with organisations such as PEMA (Port Equipment Manufacturer’s Association) in order to identify technologies that may assist in loss prevention. Thereafter, monitoring implementation, the Club seeks to ensure that such technologies are proven to achieve their objectives. Stack profiling on quay cranes and yard cranes is clearly a proven technology that can deliver both operational efficiencies as well as eliminating collisions, thus saving the associated costs and lives across the industry.

Analysis of claims from current automated container terminals which rely on this type of technology confirms that stack collisions are eliminated. The technology is not restricted to newly commissioned handling equipment as it can also be retrospectively installed on manual or remote controlled quay and yard handling equipment.

Most of the large port equipment manufacturers can provide this technology through a growing number of suppliers, as well as other technology companies including but not limited to TMIEC, ABB and Siemens. Inevitably, the price is reducing as the technology improves and becomes more commonplace; it is understood that the current cost is in the region of US$50,000 per crane. While this may appear expensive, the issues around stack collisions are real and the risks and exposures should not be underestimated, nor should the potential for such an incident to occur at any facility. It might be suggested that the return on investment can justify the expenditure when weighed against the potential savings associated with the prevention of just one serious incident, particularly if that incident causes a loss of life or limb.

In summary, if a container terminal has not experienced an incident involving a stack collision, it may already have deployed stack profiling technology or it is perhaps only a matter of time before an incident will occur. TT Club recommends that all new cranes and handling equipment are specified and supplied with this technology and consideration be given to retro-fitting existing equipment.



Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited and TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, trading as the TT Club. TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, registered in the UK (Company number: 02657093) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. In Hong Kong, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is authorised and regulated by the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, in Singapore by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and in Australia by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. In the United States, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is approved as a surplus lines insurer in all states and is accessible through properly licensed surplus lines brokers. The registered offices are: 90 Fenchurch Street, London, EC3M 4ST.

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