Safe access to workboats in ports is a key safety issue that tug owners and harbour authorities are co-ordinating to improve
There is an ongoing problem with seafarers being injured or killed falling off workboats due to poor access in ports, and pontoons that can be jacked up and down could be a solution.
With a recent increase in fatalities in the UK, leading UK ports and tug operators are tackling the key safety issue during London International Shipping Week.
Reporting on incidents this year during an LISW seminar set up by the British Ports Association and British Tugowners Association, UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) chief inspector Andrew Moll said two seafarers have died in UK ports in separate incidents. One died from exposure to near-freezing waters near Liverpool after falling overboard from a tug while working with mooring lines at a terminal. And another seafarer lost his life after being crushed between a dredger and quayside in Rosyth, Scotland during mooring operations.
Workboat Association chief executive Kerrie Forster said these accidents demonstrate the need for safer access to vessels in ports, highlighting that good practice is having “a well-designed pontoon” specifically for workboats.
“Bad practice is having several vessels tied together, which increases the potential for injury” from falling between vessels and going overboard,” Mr Forster said.
Of the existing methods for providing access to workboats from quaysides in harbours, gangways are widely regarded to be the best solution, followed by floating pontoons and permanent and temporary ladders.
However, most docking facilities are not designed with workboats or tidal fluctuations in mind, rather they are designed for larger commercial ships docking during mid- to high tides.
During a panel discussion at LISW, UK port authorities for London and Harwich discussed safety challenges with tug owners Svitzer and Williams Shipping. The need to change safety culture and the behaviour of seafarers to ensure they follow correct procedures and do not put themselves and others at risk came up repeatedly, however, panellists also discusssed a widespread lack of forward planning and investment in dedicated berths, gangways and floating pontoons for workboats and the height differential between workboats and quaysides.
One solution that emerged from the discussion comes from Auckland harbour, New Zealand. A P&O manager at the seminar explained that some of Auckland’s pontoons can be jacked up and down to ensure the embarkation level is the same height as the deck of superyachts.
“Jack-up pontoons can ensure access is never an issue and that any vessel can go alongside,” he said.
British Ports Association chief executive Richard Ballantyne said solutions like this would be on the agenda for future discussions between UK marine stakeholder associations.
“With the issues to consider, jack-up pontoons could be temporary, which could be useful,” Mr Ballantyne said.
Harwich Haven Authority chief executive Neil Glendinning said jack-up pontoons would be worth investigating. “I can envision the use of jack-up pontoons,” he said. “There is a cost element and it depends on how large vessels are that will be using them. But, it is something worth promoting.”
Tug safety will be discussed at Riviera’s Smart Tug Operations Conference in Singapore on 16 September 2019