Maritime Safety Regulation: Freight Container Securing is the Next Frontier
- Date: 01/05/2015
Published in Middle East Insurance Review May 2015 Issue
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has acted on container weights, amending the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to require verification, and it has progressed on packing by approving the IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code). Both these are significant moves to improve safety and cargo integrity. Now, as larger container tonnage becomes commonplace, it is time to turn our attention to lashing and securing, another part of the process which when it fails, can have significant consequences as seen in a number of recent accidents around the Middle East.
The advent of ground-breaking designs for larger container ships appears to offer greater opportunity for unit cost savings. Plans are afoot for ships even larger than the 19,000 TEU* giants recently entering service, with Lloyd’s Register talking of up to 24,000 TEU ships and other industry experts of 30,000 and 35,000 TEU; citing recent history when a 19,000 TEU ship would have seemed a far off dream 15 years ago. Inevitably, many ports and terminals in the Middle East are gearing up for this onslaught of mega container ships – and others will be exercised with the prospect of increased feedering activity (trans-shipping containers to smaller vessels for transport to other ports) utilising ships ‘cascaded’ from the headline services and emerging ‘mega-hubs’. At a recent shipping industry event one of my fellow panellists described this trend as future proofing without wanting to stare too hard into shipping’s crystal ball for what the future may hold.
A number of concerns have been raised over the last decade about loss of containers at sea. Activity has inevitably centred at the IMO, where reports have been made by various Maritime Administrations into related casualties. A key input into the debate was the presentation in 2010 of the conclusions of the MARIN (Maritime Research Institute Netherlands) ‘lashing@sea’ project. This was a cross-industry initiative, involving ship owners, lashing suppliers, classification societies and competent authorities, to investigate lashing loads and improve safety.
Developments, such as the SOLAS verification of gross mass for containers (which will become mandatory in July 2016) and the completion of the CTU Code, approved during 2014 by its three UN sponsors, will undoubtedly, if adequately and consistently implemented, bring about some improvements in the incident rate through the supply chain. However, and ironically perhaps, to the extent that they are apparent, the benefits may accrue more to landside operations.
It is therefore instructive to turn the pages of MARIN’s report again. ISO has been tasked by IMO to address one of the other requirements, relating to the strength of items such as corner castings and lashing equipment amid concerns that the ‘racking and stacking’ capability of containers could lead to undue stresses. As a result, the relevant ISO standards (ISO 3874, Series 1 Freight containers, lashing and securing, and ISO 1161, Series 1 Freight containers, Corner and intermediate fittings – Specifications) are undergoing thorough review. This is particularly pertinent as the industry moves to increase the height of container stacks on deck. There are, however, other issues relating to ship planning, lashing, and dynamic ship-board information are extant; this needs addressing.
One of the consequences of increased ship size is a larger volume of containers turning round in the terminal, with Rotterdam reportedly handling some 18,000 container moves in a single ship call recently. Degrees of automation are seen almost universally as the only way to improve productivity. Automation has become proven and successful for moving the boxes themselves around, but what about the lashing equipment itself? Unsurprisingly, the industry has been innovating since the inception of containers themselves, moving on from manual twistlocks (although, of course, many are still in use) to Semi-automatic (SATL) and Fully automatic (FATL) versions. The main thrust of such technological development is to help improve speed of operation and remove elements of the dangerous interaction of people, machinery and unforgiving heavy steel containers. Currently both port employees (stevedores and terminal equipment drivers), as well as ship’s crew, who are often used to unlash containers prior to berthing as a less expensive alternative to using shore personnel, are in danger from poorly secured containers on-board vessels and on the quayside.
However, there is some evidence that the FATL concept is not coping with the dynamic motion and vibration that can be experienced at sea, especially in heavy weather, and it remains to be seen what the industry (including ISO and IMO) will do about this.
Significantly, as regards the incidence of bodily injury, what also remains to be addressed is that whether SATLs or FATLs are handled on the quayside or the manual twistlocks on board the ship, all need attention by personnel working on deck. Further, the lashing rods cannot be handled any other way and the need to stack higher means there is pressure on increasing the size of the already very long and heavy rods – which have been instrumental in a number of serious accidents and injuries. Another option would be to raise the lashing platforms themselves, resulting in greater working height for the lashing gangs and probably access issues. Other concerns that have arisen include the hazards presented where loose lashing gear is left strewn around – a particular factor in feeder ship operations, where fast turnarounds and insufficient time in or between ports preclude crew or shore based teams clearing away.
Recent initiatives undertaken by ICHCA, including a major one day seminar on the subject in Rotterdam last December, are aimed at bringing together all sides of the industry, including ship operators, terminal operators, classification societies, lashing and equipment manufacturers, lashing service providers, MARIN and other industry experts. It is hoped that such collaborations will result in pragmatic proposals on how the opposing pressures can be balanced, with a view to advising IMO on its next steps and how the maritime industry can continue to improve safety.
One thing we can be sure of is that the global development in terms of ship size is being impressively matched across the Middle East by some first class port and terminal development. However, we must not let the fundamental needs of adequate lashing and securing of containers be left behind and dismissed as an optional extra rather than of primary importance.
*TEU is a measurement unit used to express the size or capacity of container ships. It means Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit. Many freight containers are twenty-feet long (One TEU) yet many more in use these days are forty-feet long (Two TEUs).