The efficiency of a bulk carrier in vastly accounted to its cargo holds and the volume of cargo it can carry. The whole operation involving the loading, the safe transfer and the unloading of the cargo is a complex procedure requiring diligent preparation, a key part of which is cargo hold cleaning. Despite the time pressure, this step should not be neglected, as it can directly affect the bottom line of the whole operation.

Complying with regulatory requirements of safe cargo cleaning is not a simple task and involves taking into account equipment, documentation needed, and properly trained crew, to make sure that the cargo holds are properly cleaned after each discharge and prepared to take the next load. But why is cargo hold cleaning so important?

Not meeting the expected requirements in terms of proper cleaning can lead not only to claims related to cargo quality, such as contamination, but even at charter party disputes and off-hire claims.

#5 reasons why cargo hold cleaning matters

  1. Inadequate cleaning can cause cargo contamination, leading to cargo damage claims from the receivers. For instance, if contaminated by residues, cement loses its binding capacity, salt becomes liquid and sugar can ferment. A single piece of coal left behind can get the hold failed.
  2. The consequences of non-compliance can be costly. Vessels may be held in port until surveyors are satisfied, but a ship is only earning while at sea and not in port, meaning that time in port must be kept to minimum.
  3. Insufficient cleaning of the intended cargo and not meeting the charterer requirements can lead to delays and charter party disputes, which can lead even to the risk of off-hire. An off-hire clause is providing for exceptions from the obligation for charterers to pay hire from the time of delivery until redelivery.
  4. Except from these, failure to carry out a sweep-up of cargo debris, even when loading the same type of cargo, could hide fresh damage which may also lead to a claim.
  5. Remaining residues may not only damage the next cargo, but also affect the painted surfaces and increase corrosion, posing an additional threat for the hull along the sea water.

It becomes understood that a thorough cargo hold cleaning is vital for the whole transport operation to run smoothly. This is why personnel onboard and onshore, involved in cargo holds preparation and in fixing vessels respectively, should be familiar with the whole range of issues surrounding the cleaning of holds.

Tips for proper cargo hold cleaning

  • Prior to commencing the operation, a risk assessment and a tool box talk should be carried out, to identify potential risk areas for everyone involved.
  • Cargo residues contained in hold wash water should be disposed in line with MARPOL Annex V or any local requirements.
  • There should be sufficient fresh water to enable a final thorough fresh water rinse of all holds to remove all traces of chlorides.
  • Typical water washing should be conducted from the top down, commencing with the hatchcovers and coamings, moving on to the underdeck area, then the bulkheads and finishing with the bilges.
  • Chemical cleaning should be conducted from bottom to top, commencing with the bilges, with the underdeck area, hatchcovers and coamings washed last, to prevent residues from streaking on the vertical surfaces.
  • In cases where holds are to be cleaned while cargo remains onboard in other holds, extra vigilance is needed regarding the ingress of wash water into holds containing cargo via the cargo hold bilge system.
  • Crew should check that cleaning chemicals are compatible with the paint system and the next cargo to be loaded.
  • Holds and bilge wells should be completely dry prior to loading the next cargo.
  • If there is a delay between completion of cleaning and loading, holds should be regularly checked for ship sweat.
  • Upon completion of the cleaning, all the holds should be inspected by a responsible officer before arrival of the shipper’s hold surveyor.