Safe mooring starts at sea



Captain Ben van Scherpenzeel, European Harbour Masters' Committee


Improving the mooring process

The safe mooring of a ship is of utmost importance. The mooring process however appears to be the forgotten link in the nautical chain. This became evident when the European harbour masters decided to make a video about strengthening the whole nautical chain through a greater awareness of all its links. Captain Ben van Scherpenzeel, of the European Harbour Masters’ Committee (EHMC) explains: “A captain who has all information while still at sea, can well prepare the mooring of his ship when in port. Too often this information is missing, and one will end up with a mooring process that is less safe and less efficient then we would all like to see.”

Mooring activities are a concern because of the number of accidents, the diminishing nautical skills on board ships and terminals, and the apparent lack of knowledge of all the components that affect safe mooring. The workshop ‘extreme weather conditions/safe mooring policy’ held at the International Harbour Masters’ Association (IHMA) congress in April 2010, showed a large amount of uncertainty in day-to-day working practices in the mooring process and acknowledged the fact that safety in mooring is negatively influenced by a lack of knowledge from the whole mooring chain.

Though there are a number of publications on safe mooring (eg. by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) and the Nautical Institute), there is a definitive lack of education about mooring in the port and shipping community. And there was no training video available that addresses all aspects of mooring, produced with the input of all parties concerned.

Developing information videos

The first EHMC video ‘The chain’ is a joint production by all those who are key to the business of bringing ships into port – the nautical chain; harbour masters, agents, pilots, tugboat captains, linemen, ship masters, hydrographic offices and terminal operators.

It was clear that the video was a perfect means of getting a message across therefore, a second video was produced. ‘The missing link’ shows the entire mooring process, from the production of a mooring line, up to the vessel coming alongside; from the basic rules for a mooring plan, to safe working loads and maximum holding capacities. With good preparations, starting while still at sea, mooring can become much safer and more efficient.

During the making of the film many experts discussed the topics raised and producing one common view was quite challenging. Many best practices are not yet common practice and there is no single set of internationally accepted guidelines for the entire shipping industry for the relation between the mooring components; mooring winch on vessel – mooring line on vessel – bollard/quick release hook on shore.

Common sense dictates that the bollard or quick release hook ashore should always be the strongest part. Another common sense finding is that lines should never break: snapping mooring lines cause many serious personal injuries and fatalities, and may different elasticity. Also, inspection of lines is different per type of line. Per type of line the consequences of snapping lines are totally different. All lines in the same service should have the same tension.

It was also identified that the bollard or quick release hook should always be the strongest component. If not, it may result in a bollard being rocketed to the vessel. It takes little imagination to think that such an incident can result in a fatality. The break of the mooring winch should render before 60 percent of the minimum breaking load of the mooring line is reached. The break should always be the weakest link of all components. Sending mooring plans to the vessel, pilot and linemen prior to arrival is being regarded as a good practice: safe mooring starts at sea. Line handling is a matter of constant awareness. Stepping into a bight is the most common mistake. Line handling is also a matter of communication. Not only by radio; it is also a matter of having eye contact and hand signals. Correct line handling during docking can save a lot of time. If a line gets stuck under fenders when a ship comes alongside, it might force the crew to retrieve the line, and pay it out again. For a large tanker this takes about 20 minutes.


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