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The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has acted on container weights, amending the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to require verification, and it has progressed on packing by approving the IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code).

Both are significant moves to improve safety and cargo integrity. Now, as larger container tonnage becomes commonplace, it is time to turn the attention on lashing and securing.

The advent of ground-breaking designs for larger containerships appears to offer greater opportunity for unit cost savings. Plans are afoot for ships even larger than the 19,000 teu giants recently entering service, with Lloyd’s Register and others talking of ships up to 24,000 teu. Inevitably, many ports and terminals are gearing up for this onslaught of mega containerships – and others will be exercised with the prospect of increased feedering activity utilising tonnage ‘cascaded’ from the east-west deepsea services and emerging ‘mega-hubs’.

A number of concerns have been raised over the last decade about loss of containers at sea. The response to this has been centred at the IMO, where reports have been made by various Maritime Administrations into related casualties. A key input into the debate was the presentation in 2010 of the conclusions of the MARIN (Maritime Research Institute Netherlands) ‘lashing@sea’ project. This was a cross-industry initiative, involving shipowners, lashing suppliers, classification societies and competent authorities, to investigate lashing loads and improve safety.

Developments, such as the SOLAS verification of gross mass for containers, which will become mandatory in July 2016, and the completion of the CTU Code, approved during 2014 by its three UN sponsors, will undoubtedly, so long as they adequately and consistently implemented, bring about some improvements in the rate of incidents. However, and ironically perhaps, to the extent that they are apparent, the benefits may accrue more to landside operations.

It is therefore instructive to return to the MARIN report.  The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has been tasked by IMO to address one of the other requirements, relating to the strength of items such as corner castings and lashing equipment amid concerns that the ‘racking and stacking’ capability of containers could lead to undue stresses.

As a result, the relevant ISO standards (ISO 3874, Series 1 Freight containers, lashing and securing, and ISO 1161, Series 1 Freight containers, Corner and intermediate fittings – Specifications) are undergoing thorough review. This is particularly pertinent as the height of container stacks on deck increases.

There are, however, other issues relating to ship planning, lashing, and dynamic shipboard information that need addressing.

One of the consequences of increased ship size is a larger number of containers turning round in the terminal. Degrees of automation are seen almost universally as the only way to improve productivity. Automation has proved to be successful at moving the boxes themselves around, but what about the lashing equipment? Unsurprisingly, the industry has been innovating since the inception of containers, moving on from manual twistlocks (although, of course, many are still in use) to Semi-automatic (SATL) and Fully automatic (FATL) versions. The main thrust of such technological development is to help improve speed of operation and remove elements of the dangerous interaction of people, machinery and unforgiving heavy steel containers.

However, there is some evidence that the FATL concept is not coping with the dynamic motion and vibration that can be experienced at sea, especially in heavy weather, and it remains to be seen what the industry (including ISO and IMO) will do about this.

Significantly, regarding the incidences of bodily injuries, what also remains to be addressed is whether SATLs or FATLs are handled on the quayside or the manual twistlocks on board the ship – all need attention by personnel working on deck.

Further, the lashing rods cannot be handled any other way and the need to stack higher means there is a demand to increase the size of the already very long and heavy rods – which have been instrumental in a number of serious accidents and injuries. Another option would be to raise the lashing platforms themselves, resulting in greater working height for the lashing gangs and probably creating access issues.

Other concerns that have arisen include the hazards presented where loose lashing gear is left strewn around – a particular factor in feeder ship operations, where fast turnarounds and insufficient time in or between ports preclude crew or shore-based teams clearing away.

Recent initiatives undertaken by ICHCA, including a major one-day seminar on the subject in Rotterdam in December, are aimed at bringing together all sides of the industry, including ship operators, terminal operators, classification societies, lashing and equipment manufacturers, lashing service providers, MARIN and other industry experts. It is hoped that such collaborations will result in pragmatic proposals on how the opposing pressures can be balanced, with a view to advising IMO on its next steps and how the maritime industry can continue to improve safety.

This is part of a series of monthly guest posts from TT Club’s risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox in which he discusses some of the emerging safety and compliance issues in today’s global supply chains

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