SAFETY4SEA invited Veronika Aspelund, Vice President for Moorins Solutions at Wilhelmsen Ships Service in Oslo, to share her thoughts on key challenges related to mooring operations and what the industry should be doing to ensure safer mooring today and in the future.
he most dangerous situation during a mooring operation is the rope breaking. Everyone’s top priority should be to prevent that happening. Implementing best-practice procedures for mooring operations and equipment maintenance, as well as good training programs for vessel crews, is the best starting point. This should be combined with good-quality products with safety features from trusted vendors.
Since mooring ropes are designed with a certain strength that they should withstand, and will or should break if that is exceeded, we will always encounter lines breaking. However, shipping’s top priority should be to create systems that are designed with safety as the essential factor. It’s clear that we still don’t treat mooring equipment as a whole ‘ecosystem’, including winches, ropes and mooring equipment onboard and in port. Cooperation between suppliers and vessel operators during the design stage and in operations is crucial to create a unified system that is fit for purpose and can save lives.
We have seen a rash of recommendations and guidelines emanating from different bodies over recent years. First out was the OCIMF, which introduced the MEG4 guidelines for tankers and LNG carriers in 2018. They were followed by RightShip, with its RISQ 2.0 inspection protocols for bulkers in 2021 (now updated to RISQ 3.0) and the new SOLAS circulars 1619, 1620 and 1175 rev.1. Various ports and terminals have also created their own standards.
All the regulations were created on the back of lessons learned from mooring-related accidents. MEG4 was itself based on an investigation into a March 2015 incident in the UK involving the LNG carrier Zarga, when a deck officer was seriously injured by a mooring line that broke during berthing operations at the South Hook LNG terminal. The fact that MEG4 provides the foundation for most of the new regulations ensures that everyone is progressing in the same direction, with aligned terminology and technical concepts. However, there is still a need for further improvements and harmonization.
There are several alarming trends that should be grounds for regulation. A particular dangerous practice is mixing different types of mooring ropes that can cause the ropes to fail. You should only use ropes with the same properties for those lines working in parallel. We also don’t recommend the use of nylon ropes with high elongation. Nylon as a material loses strength when it is wet, becoming stiff and very heavy. It sinks fast and can get tangled in propellers. Ropes with excessive elongation can also be the most dangerous in case of breakage.
We also notice that compared with 15-20 years ago, crew competence is not at the same level, and this needs to be addressed. In addition, we see that rope selection is sometimes done by purchasers with no technical background. To avoid errors, we recommend that technical departments are involved in rope selection and preparing in-house standards.
Areas for improvement
It is important to understand that regulations represent just the minimum basis for compliance. They won’t ensure that everyone goes the extra mile to ensure safety. Truly safety-conscious operators don’t sit around waiting for regulations to comply with; they work collaboratively with suppliers to develop and test new solutions – be it improvements to existing products, entirely new concepts, or digital solutions. The regulations encourage this and it marks a big step forward that will benefit all parties.
My suggestion for best outcomes is to continue to explore challenges and develop innovative solutions alongside multiple stakeholders including ports, terminals, and class societies. Secondly, you should only choose quality products. Products should be manufactured according to industry standards, approved by class, and developed with high abrasion resistance and durability in mind. Quality products will also normally be connected to lifetime services from the producer. Thirdly, maintenance of mooring equipment is vital. Well-maintained equipment contributes hugely to the integrity of ropes and will prolong their lifetime.
Holistic best practice
We recommend focusing on the different stages of the rope lifecycle in terms of best practice. We see many vessels using ropes that are not right for that ship, hence the first stage is proper selection. The basic selection criterium is covered in all the new regulations – namely, the Ship Design Minimum Breaking Load (SDMBL) will determine the Line Design Break Force (being 100%-105% of the SDMBL) and Tail Design Break Force (being 125%-130% of the SDMBL).
The type and capacity of mooring winches, the cargo, mooring arrangement, or the ports visited will also have an influence on selection. My advice is to seek expert advice from producers on the right mooring rope and training needs. It is also important not mix ropes to ensure balanced mooring.
Next comes proper installation. We often observe wrongly installed lines digging into below layers, getting stuck and creating a safety hazard when they are suddenly released. Or lines installed with twists, which reduces strength and can cause failure at low loads. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or get them to supervise the installation if in doubt.
As for maintenance and inspection, again, adhere to supplier guidelines to ensure confidence. Then comes retirement: timely retirement of ropes will prevent breakage. A good maintenance and inspection regime, combined with data collected from residual strength testing and usage of ropes, will ensure that you retire the rope before it creates a safety hazard.
Countering the ‘snap back’ phenomenon
Every rope, regardless of the material it is made from, will generate a ‘snap back’. Fortunately, there are products on the market that reduce the risk of this potentially lethal phenomenon, both for crew members and people on the quayside.
Investigate closely, buy wisely
To sum up, my key message to industry stakeholders is to always keep safety front and centre. Poring over prices on Excel spreadsheets can never do justice to the selection process. Investigate as thoroughly as possible to ensure that you purchase and use high-quality products with a built-in long lifespan and specifications that match your vessel. A rope that might be more expensive to buy may be cheaper in the long run if you take lifespan into consideration. And again, I can’t emphasize cooperation enough. Ensuring open communication between ship owners, suppliers, terminals and ports, and class societies is the best way forward.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes discussion purposes only.