Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Let go everything aft

Posted on | January 21, 2010 | No Comments

Mooring and unmooring is about the most labour intensive operation aboard a modern merchant ship, despite all sorts of mechanical assistance like drum-stowed ropes and constant-tension winches.

It can present too-small crews with real problems, as was evidenced from a pilot’s recent comments about a Capesize which had a perfectly adequate number of hands – but only to tie up one end of the ship at a time.

Apparently they tied up the bow, then, as the ship was held alongside in the tide by four tugs, the crew sprinted nearly a quarter mile aft to start hurling the sternlines ashore. Speed over the ground was as important as seamanship on this lean-manned vessel, which, he pointed out, was by no means unique.

But accidents can happen on ships which are being run, as people used to say, “on the smell of an oily rag”. It might seem perfectly reasonable to turn-to all-hands to tie the ship up, if everyone is trained as a seaman.

But there have been fatal accidents and horrific injuries incurred when people whose main task aboard ship is something very different, start to get involved with mooring and unmooring, which is an operation always involving a certain amount of risk to those in the vicinity of moving, unguarded machinery, and ropes under strain.

There have been accidents where cooks or engineroom staff have been required to make up the numbers in a deck mooring gang, and have suffered death and fatal injuries as a result. It’s a warning to the operator that skills are more important than mere numbers.

As one has learned to expect during wintertime, there has been the usual surge in accidents involving ships being blown off their berth by gusts of wind. If they are lucky, there is a big bill for replacement rope and wire, if they are unlucky, there may be serious damage done, and to more than one ship. It is not that long ago that a runaway big containership wiped out a nearby tanker berth, wrecked oil pipelines and severely polluted the waters of a major port. All because of a parting rope.

Are there sufficient moorings between ship and shore? Are the arrangements for accepting moorings sufficient – to put it bluntly – are there enough bollards for the size and windage of the ships that might be expected to use the berth?

There have been criticisms of some ports’ parsimony in this respect, although the harbourmasters may well retort that they never realised the owner was going to double the size of the ship.

And indeed, is the ship designer providing the owner with safe and adequate mooring arrangements? There have been quite modern ships, where the mooring arrangements have been cramped, installed as if as an afterthought, and potentially risky to the life and limb of the crews trying to use them.

All of which is a preface to a useful new book produced by the Nautical Institute which is really designed to provide an up to date review of mooring and anchoring, with the latest thinking on the technology, and the principles and practice.

“Mooring and Anchoring Ships” is primarily a book for mariners, who probably need to know more than they are presently taught, but there is important messages in it for ship designers, and for those involved on the harbour side of mooring and unmooring.

There is a great deal of safety-related information, whether it is in the mitigation of risks to people in an inherently hazardous operation, or the optimum way of laying out a mooring deck.

Ian Clark, who is a mariner of many year’s experience has led this useful project and, as the author, is to be congratulated. A second volume, by Walter Vervloesem, focuses on inspection and maintenance of mooring and anchoring equipment. More details on


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