Naval architects need to design bulk carriers to be less susceptible to structural failures, and industry must learn from maritime accidents
These were two of the main themes experts highlighted during Riviera’s Bulk carrier safety by design, not by accident webinar held on 27 January 2021 during Riviera’s Bulk Carriers Webinar Week.
Panellists included Intercargo’s special advisor to the management committee Jay K Pillai, Constellation Marine Services director John Noble and Bernhard Schulte (Hong Kong) managing director Firoze Mirza.
Mr Pillai said the shipping industry had not learned lessons from maritime accidents, such as preventing groundings or better seafarer training. “We have not learned from past accidents and increasing claims,” he said. “There is complacency, negligent navigation and bulk carriers are sinking with the loss of lives from liquefaction of cargo.”
He said some of the issues are from bulk carriers’ design and others from pressures and stress on crew. “Industry stakeholders need to support the crew and treat them with dignity, respect and compassion,” Mr Pillai said. “Some charterers and operators lack empathy and compassion for crew.” This leads to overloading crew with administrative tasks that can be completed on shore.
There are also global restrictions on crew changes because of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to seafarer wellbeing issues.
“We need to start treating crew as key workers and facilitate crew change,” said Mr Pillai. “Do not let any ship sail with seafarers on board for more than 11 months.”
All this leads to seafarers not being engaged with maintaining safe operations, leading to experienced seafarers becoming complacent, overconfident and negligent.
“There is then reluctance to comply with procedures and systems and assess risks for each operation,” said Mr Pillai.
“Seafarers are neglecting personal safety and basic seamanship to get the job done in haste resulting in accidents with fatal injuries,” he said.
Mr Pillai’s views came from his long experience in bulk shipping, where he was director for fleet and head of ship management and newbuildings with Pacific Basin Shipping from 2010 to 2020.
Mr Noble followed this with a summary of the main issues leading to bulk carrier accidents, including navigation and structural integrity problems. He highlighted how machinery failures and poor navigation lead to ship groundings, such as when Panamanian Capesize bulker Wakashio ran into Mauritius in July 2020.
His warnings come just a week after bulk carrier Eurosun, loaded with cement clinker, grounded on a reef on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. It is the latest in a growing list of similar navigational accidents.
Some of the biggest accident risks come from issues with hull structural integrity and cargo management. Mr Noble said corrosion of high tensile steel and reduced section modulus had caused accidents in the past. So had the use of dissimilar metals, such as weld material and plating, causing erosion at critical joints in a hull.
“Most important though are cargo issues,” said Mr Noble. “People still do not understand how cargo liquefaction happens,” he explained.
More research is required into how material properties of cargo induce liquefaction and cargo instability during voyages. There are also other issues with cargo management.
“Incorrect loading procedures lead to the hull overstressing over time, but this is not the priority for shore,” said Mr Noble. “The priority of all shipping is safety of life – there should be no compromise,” he added.
Mr Mirza provided examples of design failures and structural strain on bulk carriers in his presentation. For example, hatch covers on some bulkers are too heavy to operate and change shape during hot weather making them difficult to close.
In another example, Mr Mirza showed stress-induced cracks on ballast tanks and hatch covers on very large ore carriers (VLOCs) with “some on quite new ships”.
Some VLOCs also show strain on hull end sections with “stress fractures in the accommodation and bow sections” said Mr Mirza.
Other issues he highlighted included a lack of capacity for ballast stripping during cargo loading, design issues with mooring line winch positioning, insufficient power of main engines for manoeuvring fully loaded bulk carriers in channels, and improperly sealed conduits that have led to hazardous gases entering accommodation blocks on ships.
In response to poll questions, the majority of attendees thought older bulk carriers represented a higher risk of safety failures than modern ships. Around 53% agreed and 19% strongly agreed, while 26% thought older tonnage represents the same risk as newer ships and just 2% disagreed entirely.
When asked what they thought constitutes the greatest risk to bulk carriers, 41% said it was cargo liquefaction and 27% said cargo weight distribution, while 32% thought it was ship collision.
They were then asked if ship officers were familiar with liquefaction and how to detect suspect cargoes. Just 22% agreed and 5% strongly agreed. However, 29% disagreed, 5% strongly disagreed and 39% ticked they were neutral on this subject.
Other survey questions and answers are below.
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Panellists attending Riviera’s Bulk carrier safety by design, not by accident webinar were (left to right) Bernhard Schulte (Hong Kong) managing director Firoze Mirza, Constellation Marine Services director John Noble and Intercargo’s special advisor to the management committee Jay K Pillai
Do you consider dry bulk carriers to be a safe means of transport?
The safest: 28%
Neither the safest nor the most hazardous: 66%
The most hazardous: 6%
Do you consider remote surveys to be adequate?
1: Adequate – 50%
2: Totally inadequate – 19%
3: Now my preferred choice – 31%
Is ECDIS truly the primary means of safe navigation?
Yes. ECDIS is truly the primary means of safe navigation: 54%
No. ECDIS is not truly the primary means of safe navigation: 46%