Amid the global economic downturn, the period spent waiting at anchorage outside ports around the world may increase for some ships. In this regard, Gard P&I Club advised on the risks involved in lost and dragging anchors which are the root causes of many groundings and collisions occurring while waiting at anchorages.
The key to ensuring that a vessel is safely anchored, and remains safely anchored, is the leadership and judgement shown by the Master. A significant factor in most anchoring incidents remains the failure of Masters to appreciate at an early stage that a dangerous situation is developing and to take early and decisive action,
…the Club advised.
The more serious and very costly cases occur when a ship drags its anchor in strong currents or bad weather, and where this leads to collisions with other nearby anchored ships, groundings and loss of the ship, pollution or damage to cables and pipelines on the seabed.
A “dragging anchor” means the ship drifts without holding power, even though it has been anchored. Weather, strength of the currents and depth of water play a significant role in the loss and dragging of anchors.
One of the key findings in casualty investigations is the importance of the crew being aware of the environmental loads their anchoring equipment is designed for. If these limits are not considered during shipboard anchoring operations, there can be significant damage to the ship – even beyond the loss of the anchor and the chain.
Most anchor losses are preventable, if proper maintenance and handling procedures are followed.
As such, Gard recommends:
- Know when to leave the anchorage – If a ship is anchored in an area exposed to weather, it is necessary to have a policy as to when to leave. There have been cases where Masters have been under commercial pressure not to leave an anchorage, and disasters have followed because the Master was tempted “to wait and see until the morning”, although the weather forecast was bad.
- Know the limitations of the anchoring equipment – In making the decision whether to stay or leave, the Master should also be aware of the limitations of his anchoring equipment. Some Masters may not have full knowledge of these limitations; however, they are laid down by the class societies in their rules for calculating the dimensions, weights and strengths of the anchoring equipment. With the mentioned limitations in mind, it can be seen from instances of ships dragging anchors in bad weather that Masters have at times placed too much trust in their ship’s anchoring equipment.
- Training and mentoring of crew – Anchoring a vessel safely should be an uncomplicated operation. However, it can only be carried out safely with proper planning, a properly instructed bridge team, and when positive on-board management and leadership are shown.
Owners and managers should ensure that such knowledge is transferred to junior officers through structured training and by making that knowledge available. Good seamanship and the practice of good seamanship are best learnt on the job whilst at sea. Good anchor watches must be maintained which include the use of navigation equipment in setting up anchor watch alarms. Extra precautions such as additional cable paid out and having engines on immediate notice should also be considered.