Time restrictions root cause of mooring accidents

Mooring lines. Credit: Hapag-Lloyd

Tight turn-around times imposed by vessel schedules leads to high numbers of mooring accidents and deaths, according to maritime experts.

“Line failure is killing around 300 people every year. We know that 95% of the injury cases are linked to line and ropes, and about 60% of those mooring incident injury cases are due to snap-back triggers. Then, unfortunately, one out of seven of these cases of snap-back results in fatalities,” explained Walter Vervloesem, vice president Nautical Institute (NI), speaking at a NI hosted webinar on 16 July.

Mooring incidents have been a persistent issue affecting crew for generations; UK P&I Club published a report citing data gathered from 1989-2009 showed that 53% of mooring accidents were due to handling of ropes/wires or where ropes/wires parted. Where ropes/wires jumped or slipped off drum ends/bitts accounted for 42%, and 5% of accidents were due to equipment failure.

Vervloesem said that as the majority of mooring incidents involved issues with lines and ropes, it was likely that the time restrictions imposed by voyage schedules do not allow for proper equipment inspections. “We have improper maintenance due to lack of knowledge of wear limits for the breaks, wires, ropes and so on, and because there is no time for equipment inspections,” said Vervloesem. “The schedules onboard are already so very busy that very often inspections are not getting the attention or priority they deserve”.

Matt Turner, AFNI, a former Paris MoU PSC Officer (UK), agreed that mooring rope/wire inspections are lacking, and that due to contamination, UV light degradation, and improper use and wear the wire/rope performance becomes degraded over time. “The discard/replacement criteria are often not clearly stated, and unlike specialist offshore lifting wires or lashing equipment they are generally never subjected to periodical samples being destructively tested to verify continued design load bearing capability,” Turner told SAS.

Vervloesem also highlighted a number of issues with inspections of critical mooring equipment, especially the conditions of ropes and wires. He noted insufficient “general style checklists” and time constraints that mean even trained inspectors miss problems, as well as poor planning and organisation of mooring operations, and the rise of dangerous practices due to time pressures. Lack of emergency mooring training is also an issue, Vevloesem said, so when problems arise, such as poor weather or equipment failure, crew do not have the knowledge to deal with the situation.

Further, Turner noted that certain flag states do not require crew to have STCW training at II/5 level in their minimum safe manning documents, which covers ropework and mooring operations. Both Vevloesem and Turner agree that crew training, when it comes to follow-ups on incidents, is also lacking. Veveloesem acknowledged that risk, onboard root cause analysis, and near miss reporting is not always carried out as much as it should be. While Turner concurred that risk assessments are seen more as an exercise to satisfy auditors, rather than a key and ongoing process to enhance safe operations.

The NI webinar highlighted that crew should look out for clear physical signs of damage when undertaking rope maintenance. This can include fusion damage, when parts of the rope fuses together due to heat friction, which increases the chances of slipping. Kinks, or uncontrolled bends in the rope, which damages the fibres and weakens the rope structure, as well as chaffing damage. Crew should also watch out for pollution or contamination, where sawdust, oil or chemicals get wound up and embedded in the rope which can affect the structure and cause failures.