#1 What the reported revealed to CHIRP:

The reporter owns a container vessel which often visits a specific port at a container terminal, where the vessel faces challenges during mooring operations because they can not take the tug's line. The line is of such size and weight that makes it impossible to grab the line by hand; additionally, the remote panama lead and bollards preferred by the pilot and tugs are not accessible from any of our mooring winches.

Another challenge is that the pilots and tugs are uncooperative in making the tugs fast at the vessel’s mooring stations fore and aft. Yet, for the time being, the reporter says they have managed to convince the pilots/tugs to make fast with the winches at the mooring areas on very rare occasions.

A solution would be is the use of a small portable gasoline powered winch, originally used for forestry and moving logs, to lift the tug’s line. The eye splice is approximately 25cm in diameter, with chafing rope served around the eye which makes it particularly inflexible. When attempting to bring this eye through the panama chock it must be squeezed through, which drastically increases the tension on the messenger line and on occasions requires crew members to lean outboard in an attempt to feed the eye through the panama lead - which is obviously unsafe.

Regrettably, as the tugs and pilots refuse to make the tugs fast where ship’s winches are installed, we are forced to continue to use the small winch which presents a myriad of safety concerns

... the reported commented.

Concerning safety measures, the tug company and the pilots seem to be concerned on the safety of the crew making fast the line. Therefore, regulation is needed to set the maximum size and weight of a tug line that a ship’s crew are expected to manhandle. If large tug lines continue to be used, then they should only be used where there is suitable mechanical lifting capacity.

The reporter stated that their operating company is interested in solving the problem, which for the time being remains a challenge, because the root of the problem lies with the weight of the line and the placement of the tug which is at the advice of the pilot and tugboat operator.

My company is investigating adding machinery to the vessel, but this will take years and might not work at all. Any Master refusing to take a line from a tug due to safety concerns would feel exposed to criticism for exposing the vessel to additional risks during berthing

... the reporter added.

#2 Additional information:

CHIRP asked additional information on the vessel’s General Arrangement plan, according to which the following were revealed:

  1. design issue – the ship was built with panama fairleads and mooring bitts in remote locations not serviced by any appropriate mooring machinery.
  2. the size of the tugs mooring lines in this terminal exacerbated by the fitting of chafing lines served around the eyes further add to the overall diameter and weight of the lines
  3. the lack of flexibility of the tugs line when trying to pass it through the panama fairlead and turn 90° at the fairlead to secure on the bitts.
  4. the insistence of pilots and tug operators to make fast at specific fairleads rather than at ones serviced by appropriate mooring equipment.

Consequently, CHIRP recommended an official risk assessment for those onboard, duly signed off and stamped by the master with a copy forwarded to the company. The company, then, could confirm the findings of the risk assessment and write to the port, vetoing the use of the upper deck chocks by all tugs. This could be achieved directly or through the ship’s agents. The issue with making the tugs fast should be fully highlighted at the Master/Pilot information exchange.

#3 CHIRP comments:

CHIRP's members of the Maritime Advisory Board highlighted the following:

  1. lack of suitable winches at these locations is a basic design issue which can be resolved over time but that will not solve the problem for the crew presently on board.
  2. if the company is fully aware of the problem, the members were disappointed with the idea that captains would feel exposed to criticism for refusing to take a tug’s line at those locations on the grounds of safety
  3. risk assessments carried out on board are your friend. If a formal risk assessment for a specific task deems it unsafe and there are no practical mitigating actions available, then that task should not be undertaken. It would be unwise to override the risk assessment unless new mitigating actions or equipment were made available.
  4. the portable gasoline powered winches are not suitable for the task and should not be used.
  5. crew members leaning outboard to manhandle the eye of the tug’s line while the messenger is under tension is simply not safe
  6. if a task cannot be done safely it should not be done
  7. most ships have towage plans. Armed with a formal risk assessment these can be amended even for a specific port. Seal up the panama leads prior to arrival at the specific port. The leads can also be marked as ‘not for harbour towage’
  8. there are lighter tug lines available on the market, but the board members recognised that the reporter’s company has no direct control over the tug operators.
  9. going back to basic design issues, a ship of nearly 300m length needs robust tugs and mooring lines. Nowadays it is unreasonable to install panama leads and bitt sets suitable for those lines without a mechanical winch or capstan to handle them. The days of hauling ropes hand over hand should be over.

As vessels increase in size, ports need to adapt in order to accommodate them. This report is a classic example of traditional procedures not being updated to serve modern needs.