Essential Guidelines for Shipowners to Manage Deck Cargo Risks


Carrying deck cargo presents significant liability and risk management challenges for shipowners. Recovery from the Club is impossible if liabilities arise from deck cargo carriage unless specific conditions are met, such as special cover, suitable bill of lading clauses, or compliance with the Hamburg Rules. Proper handling and stowage are crucial to prevent safety hazards, particularly water entrapment, which can lead to cargo shifting, stability issues, and weight limits being exceeded. Shipowners must remain vigilant and ensure early identification and proper management of potential risks associated with deck cargo, reports Britannia P&I.

Deck Cargo Carriage: Liability and Risk Management

As Members are aware, recovery from the Club is impossible if a Member becomes liable due to the carriage of deck cargo unless specific conditions are met. The cargo must be suitable for deck carriage, and either:

  1. A special cover has been agreed.
  2. The bill of lading is suitably claused.
  3. The bill of lading includes an appropriate liberty clause.
  4. For contracts compulsorily subject to the Hamburg Rules by law, the Member has complied with paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9 of the Hamburg Rules.

Members should refer to Rule of the Club’s Rule Book for full details.

For ships not specifically designed for deck cargo, bills of lading should be claused to state, “the cargo is carried on deck upon the shipper’s instructions and at the shipper’s sole risk. The carrier shall in no case be responsible for loss of or damage to deck cargo whatsoever and howsoever caused, even if caused by the negligence of the carrier or his servants or agents,” or similar wording.

However, it may still be a breach of contract to stow deck cargo in an unsuitable place on deck, even with such clauses. Cargo unsuitable for deck carriage, such as those susceptible to seawater damage, should not be placed on the deck. Shifting deck cargo can also pose safety risks to the crew and ship, necessitating proper stowage checks.

Water Entrapment Risks

Deck cargoes present significant water entrapment risks, complicating maritime logistics. Ensuring proper handling and stowage is crucial to mitigate potential hazards. Compliance with contractual clauses and assessing cargo suitability for deck carriage involves multiple layers of responsibility.

Case Study: Water Entrapment in Trailers

In a recent loading in China, open trailers were placed on deck on the final loading day. These trailers had the potential for water accumulation. While trailers usually have small drain holes for regular rainfall, these are inadequate for draining large volumes of water in certain sea conditions. Water entrapment could increase the weight of each trailer, leading to:

a) Inadequate securing, broken lashings, and cargo shift. b) Changed ship stability due to increased weight with a high center of gravity. c) Exceeding hatch cover weight limits. d) Difficult situations at the discharge port, including safely removing water from trailers.

In this instance, propping open the tailgates prevented significant water accumulation, but required regular crew checks. Shipowners should remain vigilant and identify any deck cargo with water accumulation potential early. Conversations should occur if cargo presented for deck carriage could accumulate significant water.

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Source: Britannia P&I