A passenger ship was berthed close to the stern of another vessel. As the passenger ship cleared the berth on departure, the distance between the sterns of the two vessels reduced to 20 metres. The other vessel (pictured) had crew standing by to tend ropes if required. As shown below, they were in extremely hazardous positions. Fortunately, nothing went wrong; but the combination of poor design, berths ill matched to ships and snapback hazards can be lethal.
What did the reporters tell us?
The moored vessel does not fit the berth since stern lines cannot be run and the back spring and breast lines have poor leads. This led to excessive strain being placed on the lines as the departing passenger vessels wake interacted with the moored vessel.
The design of the ship’s after mooring station appears poor; mooring lines may be at greater risk of parting due to the angled leads and the need to use roller leads across the deck. In this case the mooring bollards have not been employed.
There is an apparent lack of general awareness; the officer and crew members had placed themselves within the after mooring ropes snap back zone at a time when the mooring lines were likely to come under surge load.
The lessons to be learnt
A charterer’s responsibility is to provide a safe berth for a ship. The Master’s right and responsibility is to refuse the berth where – based on observation, professional judgement, and the prevalent conditions – he considers the standard not to have been met. Commercial pressures can of course make this a challenging call; there are suggestions that inappropriate berthing is on the increase under the weight of increasing maritime trade and ship sizes.
This is a good example of an inappropriate berth in relation to the size of vessel; it could have been refused. Ships’ mooring arrangements are designed for conventional long leads forward and aft. The use of stern (and probably head) lines in reverse direction as shown greatly increases the stress on mooring arrangements, and encourages premature failure with obvious safety implications. In this case the passenger ship’s manoeuvres at very close quarters may – through interaction and surge – have amplified the danger of mooring failure.
The whole mooring deck in this case is a “snap back zone” especially in such a confined area with multiple unconventional leads. Consideration may be given to identifying and marking alternative “tension spots”. These carefully considered relatively safe points for mooring parties to stand and operate will limit exposure to snap back and discipline crew to remain in sheltered areas to the maximum extent possible. Mooring lines may be subject to surge at any time; roaming and unauthorised movement on working decks should be forbidden. Roaming ‘safe areas’ may well not be safe all of the time; snap back zones will vary according to leads and circumstances. For further information see Maritime FEEDBACK number 39, page 2; Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen (COSWP) section 26.6; and the article on this subject published in the November 2015 edition of the ‘Safety at Sea’ magazine.
Safe “tension spots”, training and mooring discipline represent a safer way forward in mooring practice.