Mooring is one of the most hazardous jobs on board and every year there are serious accidents when ships moor in ports. Thorough risk analyses and better ship design can reduce the number of injuries. This is the opinion of Ylva Bexell, master and former employee of the Swedish Acc-ident Investigation Authority, SHK.
On 3 July 2011, a chief mate died on board the Dutch cargo ship Morraborg while mooring in Holmsund, just outside Luleå. The accident occurred when the spring (the rope that runs from the bow to a fastening point on the dock, level with the mid-ship) broke and recoiled toward the foredeck, where the chief mate was supervising the mooring procedure. The rope hit him so hard on the head that he died from the resulting injury. Ylva Bexell from SHK investigated the event. According to her, what happened on Morraborg was a rather typical mooring accident. It was crowded on the foredeck, the ropes were undersized and visibility was so poor that the chief mate had to lean over the rail to see what was happening on the quayside. On top of this, the control unit for the capstan was located right where he was standing.
“Just before the rope snapped, the master had asked the chief mate to move away. But there was nowhere else for him to stand where he could do his job,” says Ylva Bexell. She says that the chief mate was in a classic dilemma: To see what is happening and at the same time stay out of danger.
“This is what every responsible mate has to think of, and I have been in the same situation. It is common that seamen take a calculated risk to get their job done at all, or to avoid putting their colleagues in a dangerous situation.”
Finding general solutions in any level of detail to reduce the risk of injury when mooring is difficult, according to Ylva Bexell. Factors such as ship design, control characteristics, weather, wind and quayside design all affect the decisions and events from one time to another. On an overall level, however, she can think of a few measures that could have a direct impact on safety. One is about risk analyses.
“But I’m not talking about ticking off items on a check-list five minutes before mooring. In-depth analyses need to be carried out in peace and quiet, in which both the crew and the shipping office take part. Finding long-term sustainable solutions can take time and require more extensive measures.”
She refers to Morraborg as one example.
“If a grating had been fitted one floor up on the high bulkhead behind the foredeck, the chief mate could have observed the mooring work and operated the ropes without having to hang his head over the rail. It is possible that a snap-back would not have reached him in such a position, but we would have to make more exact calculations to know for certain. There are many different questions to ask when making a risk assessment of the mooring work,” says Ylva Bexell.
“What sort of mooring ropes do we have? What are their breaking strengths? How do we operate our capstans and what can the brakes withstand? What procedures do we have? Are the ropes dimensioned to moor the ship from a spring or do we need a tugboat? But making this kind of risk analysis also requires a lot of knowledge.” The second safety measure that Ylva Bexell would like to see is better designed mooring stations on board. In her opinion, there is far too little consideration given to crew-members and their safety when ships are designed and built.
“There are hardly any rules for the design of mooring areas to provide a safe workplace, and those that do exist are formulated in very general terms. Maybe it’s not possible to design completely safe mooring areas, but in any case they could be made much better,” she says. “General knowledge of the risks associated with mooring work also needs to improve. There are many guidelines and recommendations written by different players in the maritime industry, and not all of them are entirely correct.” In conjunction with the Morraborg investigation, diagrams were found in a manual from the British Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) of safe snap-back zones – places on the foredeck and the poop deck where the recoil from a broken rope can’t reach. A closer examination of the diagrams showed that the identified zones were not at all safe.
“A rule of thumb says that a snap-back can reach as far as the total rope length from the break with an expected recoil angle of about 20 degrees,” says Ylva Bexell.
Linda Sundgren, text and photo