Common issues that can result in damage to the cargo include poor handling, substandard stowage and securing, water ingress into the hold and improper hold ventilation. Namely:
- Pre-shipment condition: It is not uncommon for steel cargoes to be damaged prior to loading on to the vessel. If the cargo is exposed to adverse environmental conditions or subject to poor handling, this can lead to rusting or mechanical damage before shipment. It is therefore very important that the Master ascertains that the condition of the cargo prior to loading and that the description of the cargo is accurately reflected in the bill of lading.
- Mechanical damage whilst handling: Incorrect handling of the cargo whilst it is being loaded can lead to mechanical damage. Poor slinging, the use of incorrect lifting gear and rough handling with fork lifts can all lead to serious product damage and result in rejection of the cargo by the receiver. The crew should monitor closely the handling of the cargo and record any damage before it is accepted onboard.
- Wetting damage in the hold: If the vessel’s cargo hatches are not weathertight, seawater or rain water may enter the holds and come into contact with the cargo, leading to rusting. The most effective means to avoid wetting is through proper ventilation of the hold. By monitoring and recording the dew points of the air within the cargo hold and the ambient air, correct and effective ventilation can be maintained.
- Mechanical damage on voyage: Incorrect stowage on board, such as using unsuitable dunnage or poor standards of cargo stowage and securing can lead to cargo movement or shifting whilst on passage. One of the primary reasons is overloading. A common scenario concerns too many tiers of steel coils which lead to ovalisation of the lower tiers. As well as potential cargo damage, there is also a risk of hull damage should a steel cargo shift on passage, or of damage to the tank top from overloading.
--> Appointing a surveyor: The appointment of a suitably experienced surveyor is vital in reducing the potential for claims arising from preshipment damage. A surveyor can offer valuable assistance to the Master in conducting a pre-load inspection of the steel product to make sure its condition is suitable for shipment. A suitably experienced surveyor will understand the importance of finding visible damage and rusting. They will also be able to advise the Master on the correct clausing to describe the condition of the cargo on the mate’s receipt and bill of lading.
-->Hatch testing: To avoid allegations of water damage through ingress into the hold, and to show evidence of exercising due diligence to ensure the vessel’s seaworthiness, it is recommended that the attending surveyor inspects and tests the cargo hold hatches to ensure they are weather tight. The two most common methods are hose testing, or ultrasonic testing.
--> Bills of Lading: Problems with steel cargoes are often evident prior to shipment. It is important that the Master understands the importance of clausing the mate’s receipts and bills of lading to reflect the actual apparent condition of the cargo on loading.
--> Stowage, securing and carriage: In addition to the actual loading of the steel cargo, the hold preparation, stowage and securing are all important factors. To assist the Master meet the carrier’s obligations on the stowage and safe carriage of steel cargoes, North encourages operators to consider a surveyor’s assistance to assist with the tally and the stowage of the cargo after the pre-load survey is complete.
The Master’s responsibility
Where charterers are responsible for the loading and securing of the cargo in the charter party, specific instructions on what actions are to be taken should not be given by Masters. They must ensure that their supervision does not become an intervention, as they may then be assuming responsibility for cargo stowage and securing and liability in the event of an incident.
An intervention is defined as an act by a Master that limits a charterer’s right of control of the stowage, which may then transfer the liability for that stowage from a charterer to an owner.
Irrespective of who has responsibility for loading and securing the cargo under the terms of the charter party, Masters have an overriding duty and authority under the SOLAS Convention Chapter V, Regulation 34-1, to take any action deemed necessary to ensure the safety of the vessel.
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