TT Talk - Turn the spotlight on gear carriers

As the container capacity of ships increases, it is time to consider the resultant volume of ship's gear (lashing bars and twistlocks), and how they are handled and stored. Commonly, the operation for fitting twistlocks has moved from the container top to the quayside, necessitating the transfer of the requisite gear from the ship to the quayside before discharging or loading can commence.

A platform based container has been developed, facilitating the movement of large numbers of twistlocks using the standard ship to shore cranes. These gear carriers consist of a half height platform with fixed corner posts, fitted with a number of removable bins. The bins can be lifted from the flatrack using a fork truck and will have a safe working load of about 2 tonnes (meaning that each bin can accommodate approximately 330 twistlocks). The bins are generally constructed of painted sheet steel, designed to be stacked, but not when loaded onto the gear carrier, and have no lids.

Operationally, gear carriers may be stowed in the top stack slot where they are continuously open to the weather and spray. Typically, stevedores will pick twistlocks from the top of the bin when fitting them to containers and return them to the top of the pile after removal. This last in/first out approach means that that twistlocks at the bottom of the bin may not be taken out for a considerable time and there will be a build-up of debris in the bottom of the bin. Since the bins are open and usually at the top of the stack, they and their contents remain wet most of the time. Furthermore, the twistlock will often be thrown into the bin causing the surface finish to be damaged and permitting corrosion to build up. The consequence of this accumulation of debris, rust and corrosion is that gear carriers and bins may become unsafe.

"The consequence of this accumulation of debris, rust and corrosion is that gear carriers and bins may become unsafe."Maintenance and examination

The latest edition of the supplement to the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC) includes a new paragraph specifically dealing with ship's gear carriers and bins. Although the skeletal flatrack container used to carry the bins are not necessarily covered in the Convention, they do present the same risk during handling. Consequently, the Convention recommends that such containers should be included in a maintenance and examination scheme, and be subject to periodic inspections.

However, the gear carriers do not leave the terminal, nor pass through a depot where the requisite examinations and inspections are normally undertaken. Finding a competent person to undertake the thorough examination required by the CSC from within the ship's crew or shore based stevedores may be impossible. And so, how can these containers be subject to periodic examinations?

The next question is who is the 'owner' of the gear carrier container as defined by the CSC? Under CSC, the 'owner' of a container is responsible for maintaining it in a safe condition. For freight containers it will be typical for operators to have a department responsible for this, but this may not extend to responsibility for gear carriers. Logistically, it might be simpler for the ship itself to be considered as 'owner', attaching such gear carriers to other ship items that require periodic examination.

Gear carriers and their bins would then be subjected to a periodic examination carried out by a competent person during the time the ship is in port; the safety approval plate would be marked accordingly with the next examination date. Since bins are integral to the safety of transporting twistlocks - albeit not part of the gear carrier itself - they should also be inspected to ensure they are safe, ie. the structure will contain the twistlocks during handling. Ships' maintenance departments may also wish to reduce the period between container examinations to co-ordinate with other safety surveys.

Since CSC has been amended to provide extra powers to authorised officers, enabling them to prevent containers from being lifted aboard a ship, what would happen if such an officer should deem a gear carrier unsafe? Can the ship leave it behind or wait for it to be repaired? It is unlikely that there will be a suitable replacement onto which the bins can be transferred, so what happens to the twistlocks carried?

Since normal operational damage and corrosion should be easy to identify well in advance of it presenting a risk to stevedores and crew, or being subject to a stop notice, it could be prudent for shipping lines to maintain a stock of replacement parts at hub ports so that ships can exchange gear carriers and bins as required.

"it could be prudent for shipping lines to maintain a stock of replacement parts at hub ports so that ships can exchange gear carriers and bins as required."Recommendation

It is concerning that there have been sufficient examples of gear carriers and bins in extremely poor condition to identify this problem. It is recommended that lines implement appropriate maintenance programmes for gear carriers in order to reduce the risk of injury to those involved in handling twistlocks in bulk.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club