Heavy weather combined with inappropriate manipulations may lead to damage of a vessel, threatening the cargo, the environment or, even worst, human life. Most common weather threats that can harm the vessel, are hurricanes, squalls, typhoons or tropical cyclones. The ship’s master should always be aware of the weather forecast when moves in dangerous areas and be ready to appropriately handle the vessel under circumstances of bad weather in case that violent wind, torrential rain or surging waves appear.
Nowadays, there are warnings about heavy weather phenomenon and information is available many days before.
Preventive actions to be taken for heavy weather damage
- Always the cargo to be loaded as per Cargo Security Manual.
- Speed of the vessel need to be adjusted with the course and slow down if needed
- Consideration of the actual stability conditions
- Maintaining of the lashing equipment to be in a good condition (container ships or Ro-Ro vessels)
- Hatch covers and seals must be in good water-tight condition (bulk carriers)
- Officers to be aware and well trained to handle the mentioned risks
- Alternate route through a less risky course
Commercial vessels that face the highest risk through heavy weather are container ships, heavy lifts and Ro-Ro vessels. For bulkers the most common cargo damage is the leaking of cargo hatches. However, under heavy weather conditions navigation becomes more difficult as inadequate visibility would cause other accidents such as collision or grounding.
Real case scenario
On September 10th, 2007 a bulk carrier arrived in ballast at the Houston Fairway Anchorage, Galvestone, USA, and was due to load a cargo of Pet Coke on September 17th, 2007 in Houston, USA. At approximately 18.00 hours LT, on September 12th, 2007 the Master came on the bridge due to the increasing bad weather of Tropical Storm / Hurricane Humberto, joining the OOW and AB, and ordered the Chief Engineer to put the main engines on standby. At 22.00 hours LT, a security call was received over the VHF from another vessel stating that due to the strong winds they were dragging their anchor and were without their main engines. At 22.55 hours LT the Master noticed that the second vessel called once again on the VHF and reported that they had no control over their vessel. The Master of the bulk carrier began to heaving in their port anchor and to maneuver the vessel to avoid coming into full contact with the drifting vessel. At 23.20 hours LT the drifting vessel came into contact with the portside of the bulk carrier causing damage to both vessels. It later also made contact with a chemical tanker, who was also anchored nearby.
Actions to be followed in cases that a damage couldn’t be prevented
- Reporting facts in logbook and sign of the position to inform the interested parties, the office and to reach assistance (if needed).
- Checks for crew injuries.
- Investigate any cargo damages, fracture pipes and anchor lashing condition.
- Consider about the nature of damage and about the actions to mitigate the situation or prevent further damage.
The latest real life incident regarding vessel’s total loss cause by heavy weather conditions is the El Faro incident.
It is important, the forecast to be checked during the above procedures and the master be kept informed about any changes. To make sure that these actions have taken place as recommended, it would be helpful for the vessels crew to use a checklist with the emergency items to be considered in a similar situation.
SQE Marine provides an Emergency Checklist to be addressed on board vessel, for crew usage.