Unsafe tug securing arrangements.


A report from a large container ship highlighting difficulties securing tugs in a specific port.


What the Reporter told us:

My container vessel regularly calls at a container terminal in a specific port where, during mooring operations, we often experience problems taking the tug’s line.

The problem is that the line presented by the tug  is of such a size and weight that  it is impossible to take the line by hand. In addition, the panama lead and bollards preferred by the pilot and tugs are remote  and not accessible from any of our mooring winches.

The pilots and tugs are extremely reluctant to make the tugs fast at the vessel’s mooring stations fore and aft, where the mooring winches could be used to lift the tug’s line. We have only been able to convince the pilots/tugs to make fast with the winches at the mooring areas on very rare occasions.

The current stop-gap solution is to use a small portable gasoline powered winch,  which was originally used for forestry and moving logs, to lift the tugs line. These small winches have a rated pulling capacity of 770 kg but in practice they are unable to safely hoist the tug’s lines due to the lines large and heavy construction. The eye splice is approximately 25cm in diameter,  with chafing rope  served around the eye  which makes it particularly inflexible. When attempting to bring this eye through the panama chock it must be squeezed through, which drastically increases the tension on the messenger line and  on occasions requires crew members to lean outboard in an attempt to feed the eye through the panama lead – which is obviously unsafe.

Regrettably, as the tugs and pilots refuse to make the tugs fast where ship’s winches are installed, we are forced to continue to use the small winch which presents a myriad of safety concerns.

On the part of the tug company and the pilots, there seems to be little concern given to the safety of the ship’s crew making fast the line.  They have to lift a line that is much too heavy and lift it  in an area of the ship that was not designed for lifting lines. There should be some regulation governing the maximum size and weight of a tug line that a ship’s crew are expected to manhandle.  If large tug lines continue to be used, then they should only be used where there is  suitable mechanical lifting capacity.

Our operating company would like to solve this problem, but it has proven  difficult , as the root of the issue lies with the weight of the line and the placement of the tug which is at the advice of the pilot and tugboat operator. My company is investigating adding machinery to the vessel, but this will take years and might not work at all.  Any Master refusing to take a line from a tug due to safety concerns  would feel exposed to criticism for exposing the vessel to additional risks during berthing.

Further Dialogue:

The reporter supplied extracts of the vessels General Arrangement plan and other information at CHIRP’s request. Discussion highlighted the following issues:

  • design issue – the ship was built with panama fairleads and mooring bitts in remote locations not serviced by any appropriate mooring machinery.
  • the size of the tugs mooring lines in this terminal exacerbated by the fitting of chafing lines served around the eyes further add to the overall diameter and weight of the lines.
  • the lack of flexibility of the tugs line when trying to pass it through the panama fairlead and turn 90° at the fairlead to secure on the bitts.
  • the insistence of pilots and tug operators to make fast at specific fairleads rather than at ones serviced by appropriate mooring equipment.

The design issue is for the company to address but that will  take time, as the reporter noted. Equally, trying to change the size and arrangement of the tug’s line is not in the vessels immediate control. However, the vessel can refuse to take tugs at the problem locations on the grounds of safety. The precedent already exists “We have been able to convince the tugs/pilots to make fast with the winches at the mooring areas, but only occasionally.”

CHIRP suggested a formal risk assessment be carried out on board, duly signed off and stamped by the master with a copy forwarded to the company. The company could confirm the findings of the risk assessment and write to the port, vetoing the use of the upper deck chocks  by all tugs. This could be achieved directly or through the ship’s agents. The issue with making the tugs fast should be fully highlighted at the Master/Pilot information exchange.


CHIRP Comment:

The members of the Maritime Advisory Board noted the following:

  • lack of suitable winches at these locations is a basic design issue which can be resolved over time but that will not solve the problem for the crew presently on board.
  • If the company is fully aware of the problem, the members were disappointed with the idea that captains would feel exposed to criticism for refusing to take a tug’s line at those locations on the grounds of safety.
  • risk assessments carried out on board are your friend. If a formal risk assessment for a specific task deems it unsafe and there are no practical mitigating actions available, then that task should not be undertaken. It would  be unwise  to  override  the risk assessment unless new mitigating actions or equipment  were made available.
  • the portable gasoline powered winches are not suitable for the task and should not be used.
  • crew members leaning outboard to manhandle the eye of the tug’s line while the messenger is under tension is simply not safe.
  • if a task cannot be done safely it should not be done.
  • most ships have towage plans. Armed with a formal risk assessment  these can be amended even for a specific port.  Seal up the panama leads prior to arrival at the specific port.  The leads can also be marked as ‘not for harbour towage’.
  • there are lighter tug lines available on the market, but the board members recognised that the reporter’s company has no direct control over the tug operators.
  • going back to basic design issues , a ship of nearly 300m length needs robust tugs and mooring lines. Nowadays it is unreasonable to install panama leads and bitt sets suitable for those  lines without a  mechanical winch or capstan to handle them. The days of hauling ropes hand over hand should be over.

As vessels increase in size,  ports need to adapt in order to accommodate them. This report is a classic example of traditional procedures not being updated to serve modern needs.


Report Ends……………….