Approximately one third of all P&I claims are cargo-related. A significant portion of cargo claims is caused by water damage, of which numerous cases relate to ingress of sea water via the hatch covers of dry cargo vessels. Reports of leaking hatch covers are the most frequent cause for selecting a vessel for an unscheduled condition survey. A Gard release talks about the tightness is necessary to prevent such cases.
In sailing vessels the cargo hatches used to be small, as small as possible, in order to preserve the integrity of the hull. Decks were often awash during ocean passages and the smaller the opening, the smaller the risk of flooding the holds. In the ships of today the cargo is no longer carried on board on the backs of strong men, and the speedy loading and discharge methods require much larger deck openings.
Very large openings actually, but manufacturers have been able to design and build strong enough steel covers and closing devices to cope with the demand – strong enough and tight enough at the time of testing and delivery of the new ship, but as the vessel ages, however beautifully, the hatch covers are prone to suffer from wear and tear, and problems of tightness arise.
When leakages occur, ship managers may blame weather conditions rather than possible lack of maintenance of hatch cover tightness systems. One will often find, however, that there is evidence of both: bad weather and poor condition of hatch cover tightness systems.
Cargo damage relating to sea water ingress
A carrier’s liability for cargo damage relating to sea water ingress via the hatch covers often depends on whether he can demonstrate that he exercised due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy before and at the beginning of the voyage in question.
Whilst this is an onerous burden of proof to meet, a carrier who can show diligent procedures and practices with regard to inspection, testing and maintenance will be less likely to encounter problems from the outset, and will be better placed to show that due diligence has indeed been exercised. Hence, Gard Services sees good maintenance and proper testing of hatch covers as a clear loss prevention issue. In the following paragraphs we look at some major points related to the tightness of cargo hatch covers of dry cargo vessels.
Hatch covers are inspected annually, by a class surveyor, for the purposes of the two certificates mentioned above, so class societies have a major influence on the degree of hatch cover maintenance needed as far as certification is concerned. The responsibility for maintaining a vessel’s hatch covers and locking devices lies with the owner and operator, but class and flag state are responsible for certifying compliance with classification and load line rules. Also, SOLAS regulations for the issuance of an International Cargo Ship Safety Construction Certificate touch upon the subject, and require openings on deck to have the means to be watertight.
The purpose of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code is to provide standards for the safe management and operation of ships. Its requirements include the creation of procedures for maintenance of the vessel and for inspections and reporting. When checking the text of such procedures, Gard’s surveyors often see that not much attention is paid to the vessel’s hatch covers. The hatch covers are important to the safety of the vessel, crew and cargo, but are often addressed in very general terms only, or hardly mentioned in the vessel’s maintenance procedures. Members are strongly recommended to include instructions from hatch cover manufacturers in the vessel maintenance program, including records of maintenance, tests and repairs.
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