Calm and methodical mooring is considered to be a question of safety on Silja Galaxy.
“If you have an impatient leadership style, people get nervous and don’t dare to take initiative. This can cause dangerous situations,” says chief mate, Martin Söderberg.
When we come down to the poop deck where mooring takes place at the stern of the ship, half an hour before arrival the hawsers are already out and checked. Everything is well prepared to make the mooring go smoothly in Värtahamnen, Stockholm.
“We moor four times a day at the same ports, so everyone knows exactly what to do,” says the foreman, Robert Andersson. The poop deck and the foredeck, the mooring place at the fore of the ship, are equipped with four capstans and a total of eight hawsers. Every six months one of the mooring ropes is replaced and there are always two new ropes in stock if something unexpected happens.
“This was changed last week,” says Robert Andersson, putting his hand on a light-coloured rope that is rolled onto one of the capstans. “It will be there for a few months, maybe six, then we turn it around.” Turning ropes, or offsetting them a few metres on the capstans, means that the wearing points are moved. In this way it is possible to avoid mooring ropes from wearing in the same places.
“Because we moor so frequently, there is a lot of wear,” says Robert Andersson. “But we are thorough when it comes to safety and we make a quick check of the ropes before every mooring. Once a month we unroll them completely and carry out a thorough check.” After a while, able seamen Kristoffer Andersson and Matthias Jacobsson come down to the deck together with the chief mate, Martin Söderberg, and trainee officer, Julia Mattisson. The evening sun lights up the deck and the crewmembers stand and chat while the ship approaches the harbour.
“Mooring here is quite easy,” says Kristoffer Andersson. “We have a large area to move around and it’s easy to work with.”
Matthias Jacobsson agrees.
“We don’t have a load of pipes and stuff in the way, and we know how we want things done,” he says.
When the ship glides along the quayside, Martin Söderberg is standing by the rail with an intercom counting down the number of metres to position. Matthias Jacobsson gets ready to cast ashore the monkey’s fist (a ball on the end of the spring – the first rope) while Kristoffer Andersson stands behind the capstan. Robert Andersson takes over the control unit for the capstan, with trainee officer Julia Mattisson just behind him. Everything takes place safely and methodically and they only use signs when communicating with each other. Martin Söderberg says that the calm approach is a very conscious working method.
“Just in terms of safety, I believe that the atmosphere when mooring is vital,” he says. “If the foreman has an impatient leadership style, shouting and screaming at people, they become uncertain and daren’t say no.”
Robert Andersson reasons in the same way. He explains that he has worked on several ships over the years that have far more stress when mooring and where there have also been accidents.
“ I worked for four years on tankers and during that time there were two serious mooring accidents. Both of them could have been avoided if we’d had better routines and a more methodical approach. The reason why it is calm on board the Galaxy is also because we are a ferry service, so we always moor in the same ports. You get to know the crew on the quayside and there aren’t many surprises.” Even though the routines are well established, everyone says that they are mindful of the risks. They have all seen mooring ropes that have snapped and Matthias Jacobsson says that the risk of an accident is always there in the back of your mind.
“You think about it every time you come in to moor the ship,” he says. “I think I’m more aware of it now than when I was younger.” Kristoffer Andersson nods in agreement.
“It’s probably a combination of getting older and gaining experience. The forces released when a rope breaks are enormous.” Risk assessments of mooring work have been made on the Galaxy and it was given a value of four on a scale of six. On the bulkhead just inside the door to the mooring deck there is a map of snap-back zones – places on the mooring deck where a broken rope could reach which should be avoided. One of these zones is behind the capstans where the gears are located.
“When you switch between the two capstans you have to stand here,” says Robert Andersson, stepping up onto the grate behind the pair of capstans. You can’t avoid it. The mooring ropes used on the Galaxy are 64 millimetres in diameter, either 120 or 220 metres long with eyes at both ends. The breaking strength is 795 kN, corresponding to just over 80 tonnes, and the same type of rope is used for all moorings.
“We have tested some other ropes over the years but they were rather sloppy and didn’t have a good grip,” says Mattias Söderberg. “The ones we have now are good to work with and they are elastic without a powerful snap-back if they break.
Both the foredeck and the poop deck are covered, so the ropes are protected from rain, snow and sun when they are on the capstans. In really cold winters we also have custom-made tarpaulins to protect the mooring rope from the cold.”
“We are also careful to maintain the hawse-holes. These were sanded and painted in the spring,” says Robert Andersson and nods toward the oval opening in the rail. At quarter past six, Galaxy is moored at the quayside. The deck crew go straight down to the vehicle deck for loading and unloading. In an hour they will be at the mooring stations once again, ready to cast off for the next passage over the sea of Åland.
Linda Sundgren, text and photo