Allowing poor maintenance of mooring lines may be a way for cheapskates to save money but it kills seafarers and, as in this case, linemen ashore. Maritime New Zealand makes the point in its latest issue of Lookout!. It also highlights a murderous level of negligence and poor seamanship aboard the Indian-flagged bulker Devprayag.
A synthetic aft spring, worn, damaged, contaminated with grease and paint – which degrade synthetic materials, and unrecorded in the ship’s documentation and certificates, was apparently felt appropriate by the shipowner and the vessel’s officers to handle the enormous forces it was subject to. It was not. It snapped, seriously injuring a crewmember, who was so badly hurt he was unable to give information to investigators, and hitting a lineman ashore who was flung over a steel railing and killed.
Says Lookout! “A bulk carrier’s aft spring line was in visibly poor condition and had only one-quarter of its full strength when it parted, killing a linesman.
The port company linesman had been assisting the bulk carrier’s crew, who had loaded the vessel with coal, and were preparing to leave the harbour. The vessel was moored “port side to” with its usual mooring arrangement of four head lines, two forward spring lines, four stern lines, and two aft spring lines.”
”After confirming the passage plan with the master, the pilot ordered the port’s tugs to make fast to the vessel, and ordered the vessel’s mooring lines to be singled up to only one fore and one aft line in preparation for departure.
“The second officer was both overseeing and taking part in the aft mooring line operation. He ordered a deck cadet to back off the aft spring line, which was operated by a warping drum fixed to a main drum. The main drum operated the second spring line. As the line slackened, the second officer called to the port company linesman to cast it off from the shore bollard.
”The linesman did so, and after checking that the first spring line was clear, the second officer headed back to the winch, leaving the linesman standing near the shore bollard.
”The second officer instructed the deckhand to start winching in the released spring line. Just as the deckhand engaged the winch, the aft crew heard a loud bang – the remaining aft spring line had failed. The inboard end of the line whipped back, knocking down the deckhand, but he was able to get back on his feet, seemingly uninjured.
”The second officer quickly looked over the port side to see what had happened below. He saw the linesman lying on a concrete section of the wharf near the bollard. A witness at the accident scene said the linesman had been knocked off his feet by the broken line as it recoiled, and had been thrown over a steel rail and onto the concrete section of the wharf.
“On hearing the loud bang, the pilot and master also looked out over the port bridge wing. Seeing the linesman lying there, they notified the harbour authorities and requested an ambulance. The linesman was pronounced dead soon after the
1. Analysis of the rope showed extreme abrasion, which was visibly apparent
along its length. On inspection, it would have been obvious to a qualified seaman that the rope was not fit for purpose. An independent expert concluded that at the point of failure the strength of the rope was 11.7 tonnes, yet the rope was designed with a minimum breaking force of 48.9 tonnes. The rope had also been smeared with grease, which is known to break down synthetic fibres, and was dirty and contaminated with the red oxide paint used as a primer on the vessel.
2. On inspection, it would have been obvious that the mooring rope should have been retired from service. The ship’s records included certificates for 6 ropes, although there were 12 on board, and these extra 6 were not identified on the certificates. The chief officer said the ropes were inspected monthly and these inspections were recorded. No records were found.
3. The linesman was standing in a position vulnerable to recoil from the line if it parted. Training in the dangers of this hazard should be commonplace for anyone handling ropes. A rope can recoil almost as far as its length, in roughly a 10 degree cone around the point at which it is held.
4. Mooring procedure on the vessel was poor. The second officer was actively engaged in the winching of the first released spring line at the time of the accident. Despite being the designated controller of the operation, he was not free to supervise the safety aspects of the process.
It was later found that the crew had operated the winch without using the purpose-built safety pin that prevented the clutch engaging. If engaged, the clutch would drive the main rope drum on which the second aft spring line was attached, putting strain on the line.
5. It is possible that the clutch may have been either partly engaged before the winch was operated, or it slipped into gear as the winch was started. It may have been this resulting tension on the second aft spring line that caused the substandard rope to fail.
A proper mooring rope maintenance programme should include (as a minimum) thorough assessment of condition by a competent and trained person, and comprehensive records of planned inspections for each rope, including manufacturer’s certificate, date of anufacture, the date the rope came into service, general conditions, exposure to sunlight and/or contaminants, and any unusual loads the rope has been subjected to.
Rope inspection should form part of the vessel’s safety management system and the owner should establish objective criteria for replacement.
Maritime New Zealand notes that in at least five other serious accidents over the past 10 years, poor mooring rope inspection, maintenance or operation has led to serious injury or death:
1999 – A mooring rope parted during berthing and the failed line recoiled, injuring four people who were on a nearby rowing boat.
2004 – The chief bosun of a roll-on roll-off cargo vessel was injured after being hit by a failed mooring rope.
2006 – Two vessels were moored alongside and a crewmember was walking along the deck of one of the vessels, when a mooring line snapped and struck him in the head. He later died of his injuries.
2006 – A crewmember died of his injuries after crew heard what sounded like a mooring rope flying through the air. The master had just ordered the vessel astern to relieve pressure on the spring line, but sadly it was too late.
2007 – A ship’s officer died in hospital after being struck by a stern line that parted after its winch was operated in the wrong direction.