Oceangoing Cargo Ships Safety & Operational Matters
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Container ship cargo cranes operation and maintenance procedures

Vessels fitted with cargo cranes will always be described accordingly in charter parties and will, on most occasions, be required to load/discharge using this equipment. Any breakdown or substandard operation of the ship's cranes will inevitably result in a claim for an off-hire time from the Charterers. It always proves to be very expensive for the Owners and, if regular breakdowns of cargo cranes occur, the vessel's reputation will become tarnished. It may eventually be reflected in the vessel's future earnings.

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The Master has the overall responsibility for ensuring that the vessel's cargo cranes are adequately maintained and that he receives regular updates from the Chief Engineer and Chief Officer on their condition. Any defects which affect their operation or efficiency must be reported to the relevant Management Office immediately, who will decide what course of action is to be taken. In most cases, however, repairs and maintenance are to be carried out by the ship's Officers and crew.

The Chief Engineer is directly responsible for all crane maintenance and under his supervision and assistance, the Electrical Engineer and other ship's Engineer Officers are to carry out all necessary repairs and maintenance to ensure that the vessel's cranes are always in good working order during the loading and discharging operations with due regard to safety.

It is the joint responsibility of the Chief Engineer and the Chief Officer to ensure that all moving parts are adequately greased, machinery being the Chief Engineer's responsibility, and wires, sheaves, etc. the Chief Officer's responsibility. However, they must liaise closely to determine a proper and suitable greasing program, always taking into account the amount of use the cranes have been or will be subjected to. General maintenance of the crane exteriors and fittings is the responsibility of the Chief Officer.

Before commencing cargo operations, the Electrician must make a hand over to the crane driver and all tests to be passed on. A handover protocol shall be signed on commencement/completion cargo operation and to visually inspect the cargo cranes for damages (wires, sheaves especially top sheaves condition)

In case damages are noted, the stevedores to be immediately notified. A stevedore damage report to be submitted and get acknowledged fro the foreman. Also, the Fleet Superintendent to be contacted for necessary repair assistance when needed. The Hull and Machinery &Class Surveyor have to be notified of severe damage cases that affect the seaworthiness of a vessel.

Wires - Greasing - Protection

Apart from the mechanical stresses placed on crane wires during operation, the factors affecting their working life are:- Weather Protection
  • Lubrication
  • Regular application of good quality wire rope grease will fulfill both purposes. The Chief Officer's responsibility is to ensure that sufficient stocks of suitable grease are held on board.

    Because most wire greasing will be done with the jibs in the stowed position, there are certain parts of each wire which will be less accessible. These are those parts of the hoist and luff wires which lie on a sheave, and those parts which lie inside the crane structure. Attention must be paid to the ends of the wires where they are secured, as this part of the wire is often very inaccessible and overlooked. Any extra time required must be taken to ensure adequate protection in this area.

    Wires- Mechanical Damage

    Provided that the grooves in the sheaves are in good order and that the wire is allowed to run free and not be dragged over coamings, the crane wire should not suffer mechanical damage. The Duty Officer must always be on the lookout for bad practices by crane operators, and stop any abuse of the ship's equipment. The Chief Officer must be informed immediately if such bad practices have been witnessed so that an appropriate claim can be made.
    Containership mounted with deck crane

    Standard regulations dictate that a wire must be replaced when 10% of the visible strands are broken within a length of nineteen times the diameter. It is a fair guideline and is to be the worst condition into which the wire is allowed to fall, before replacing it. Before arrival at loading/discharging ports, the wires must be checked for broken strands, by sighting along the length of the wire in both directions. It is inexcusable for any vessel to arrive in port and suffer a failure of port/inspection due to a faulty wire. It must be discovered early enough to change the wire in time to commence cargo operations without delay to the vessel and the chief officer's responsibility.

    Crane Windows / Access

    Time has been lost in the past through vessels arriving in a port where cargo is to be worked, using the ship's cranes. The stevedores have refused to drive them due to dirty windows, untidy and dirty cabs, broken seats and operating levers, faulty ventilation and/or heating, slippery oily accesses and ladders and handrails in a poor or unsafe condition. The Chief Officer has to inspect the cranes before arrival concerning the above items. Also, he needs to confirm that all defects are rectified before the stevedores come on board. During cargo operations, the duty officer is responsible for ensuring that the cranes remain in good condition throughout the load/discharge, and any subsequent defects are brought to the Chief Officer's attention.


    The S.W.L. of the cranes must be marked in a conspicuous position on the crane jib, and it must be ascertained by the Chief Officer that all parties concerned with the load/discharge operation are aware of the maximum capacity of cranes and that this is not exceeded. The weight of grabs, spotters, or other cargo-handling equipment attached to the hook must always be taken into account.


    All crane wires are supplied along with a test certificate that pertains only to that wire. The certificate must be kept on file and ready for inspection by the appropriate authorities at all times. The certificates must be marked with the position of the wire, i.e., on which crane the wire is situated and its use, e.g., luffing or hoist wire. All spare wires certificates must be marked along with its stowage position. The wire itself is to be tagged and marked with the applicable certificate number.

    It is the responsibility of the Chief Officer to ensure that this is done correctly. However, the Master must keep the file of certificates in his possession along with the chain register. A certificate must be held on board for every wire, whether in use or as a spare. If two wires appear on the same certificate, the supplier is to be notified, and asked to supply separate certificates.

    This is perhaps easier carried out by the Company; therefore, on receipt of a crane wire, which has no separate certificate, the Master must inform the relevant Management Office who will arrange to have separate certificates issued as soon as possible.

    Tests And Statutory Inspections

    The Master must ensure that these are always carried out as required by notifying the relevant Management Office in advance of when such an inspection, test or survey is required to be carried out. The attendance of the appropriate surveyor will then be arranged in a suitable port in ample time. When reviewing survey status on cargo lifting gear, due attention must be paid to the local government regulations of the vessel's destination; many countries require the cranes to have been tested during a certain time limit before arrival in their ports.

    The age of the vessel is often a factor in determining whether the cranes require such extra tests, and the agent and or Charterers representative should always be consulted to determine if any special regulations are in existence. An example is the regulations imposed by the Saudi Arabian authorities, which require all cranes to be inspected by a class surveyor within the previous six months prior to the vessel's arrival at a Saudi Arabian port if the vessel is over ten years old. If such an inspection is required, the Master must inform the relevant Management Office in ample time to arrange this. These inspections often require the issuance of a special certificate on behalf of the authorities involved. This must be confirmed beforehand to ensure that the correct paperwork is organized in advance.

    All statutory inspections, tests, and surveys of cargo handling equipment must be entered in the chain register and duly stamped and signed by the attending surveyor. These surveys are to include all permanently attached hooks, swivels, etc. It is the responsibility of the Chief Officer, under the direct supervision of the Master, to ensure that all the permanently attached equipment maintained as per test certificates, and they are to be marked as such.

    Quadrennial Through Examination

    Normally, the thorough quadrennial examination will be carried out at the drydocking immediately before the quadrennial period's expiry date. The following is a guide to what will be involved: On completion of the examination, the Cargo Gear Register will be endorsed, and entry stamped. It will always be countersigned and stamped by the appropriate class surveyor who attended the examination/test. Where hooks, swivels, chains, etc. have been re-stamped, it must be ensured that:
    1. Where a new test number is used, a new certificate bearing the new number is issued.
    2. Where the existing marks are used, they must be re-stamped and the numbers verified.
    Upon completion of the survey, the Cargo Gear Register must be properly endorsed on the page reserved for quadrennial surveys. The marks on the relative crane cargo gear match the certificates. To this end, the Chief Officer's responsibility is to ensure that these requirements are met.

    Cargo Gear Book

    The Cargo Gear Book is a legal document of similar standing to the official logbook or oil record book and must be treated accordingly. It is a declaration on the ship's part that her cargo gear complies with the regulations.

    The book must always be ready for inspection by surveyors who may wish to inspect it before taking the ship's gear into use, and the Master shall be responsible for ensuring that this is always the case. It would almost certainly be called in evidence in the event of an accident caused by the failure of the ship's gear.

    Inspections By Ship's Personnel

    In addition to the above statutory inspections, tests, and surveys, it is the Company's policy that the cargo gear is subject to more frequent inspections by a responsible member of the ship's staff, which, for these inspections, is to be the Chief Officer for wires, shackles, hooks, swivels, ponder balls, etc., and the Chief Engineer for the lifting machinery and plant.

    It is of paramount importance that the numbers on all shackles, hooks, chains, etc. be cleaned up and made legible. Any faults found during such inspections must be rectified and defective parts replaced. The period between these inspections must not exceed six months, and should be more frequent if deemed necessary. The Lloyds Register pocketbook "Survey and Examination of Ships' Lifting Appliances" is supplied to all vessels and this should be consulted by the inspecting officer.

    The inspecting officers are to report on their findings and pass this to the Master, who will keep them on file in his possession as a record of ship's staff crane inspections. The Master is responsible for ensuring that these inspections are carried out to his satisfaction and with the appropriate frequency.

    Lifting Gear Plan

    It is an International requirement that the location of each piece of equipment used for lifting is indicated on a plan which must be available for inspection by a competent authority. One copy is to be kept on the bulkhead of the ship's office, and another working copy is maintained. It is the responsibility of the Chief Officer to ensure that these are kept up-to-date and are accurate. The plan must contain details of the location, safe working load, and certificate numbers of each crane, grab, wire, hook and swivel on the vessel.

    Prior To Arrival In Port

    Topping up of deck cranes or removing the jibs from their crutches before arrival in port is strictly prohibited.

    Crane Checks Prior To Use

    In addition to maintaining the cargo gear to the highest standards, the following items must be checked explicitly on each occasion on which the vessel arrives from sea and when cargo is to be discharged or loaded. Limits - The hoisting and luffing limits are to be tested and, if necessary, must be set in strict accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

    Crane Oil Levels - Check the oil levels in all the relevant header tanks, servo tanks, etc.

    Crane Floodlights - These must be tested, as are the interior lights in the driver's cabin and the machinery space.

    Crane Windows - These are to be washed clean, and cracked or broken windows must be replaced, and the seals checked. Hinges and locking clamps are also to be checked that they are free.

    Machinery Spaces - Must be kept clean, tidy, and free from oil and water on the deck plates, and the drains must be proven clean and bright. Cooling Fans - These must be tested and proven in good working order. All ventilator flaps/cowlings which require to be open during crane operation, together with associated locking devices are to be free.

    Ladder ways and Platforms - These must be inspected and kept clear of any oil, grease or water on the foot treads, and the handrails must be intact and safe.

    Crane and Machinery Space Watertight Doors - Sealing rubbers to be intact and all hinges and closing handles must be oiled and kept free.

    Chain, Hook and Ponder Ball - This assembly is to be kept painted with highly visible or fluorescent paint, most commonly dayglow orange, and must be maintained in this condition. Ponder ball swivels must be maintained free and must be marked with the rig's safe working load. With a continuous slight movement between the mating faces of the chain links, some wear will inevitably occur, and these areas are to be periodically checked.

    Oil Cooling Ducts and Grills - Make sure watertight access doors are open, and all trunking/cooling fins/grills are clear of residual cargo dust and obstructions.

    Slip Rings - Electrician to megger test before the operation. Electric Cable Lead Pulleys - Must be checked and maintained free. Failure to maintain these in a free condition will result in the electric cable abrading/chaffing with consequent damage. Before the commencement of cargo operations, the electric cable can be manually pulled to check the free operation of the cable guide pulleys. If the guide pulleys do not move, they may be adjusted too tightly or may be seized, and steps must be taken to ensure free turn.

    Electric Power Cable/Plug and Socket - Electricians carry out a megger test before them being connected. On taking off the watertight covers, any residual water/moisture must be completely dried out.

    Proceeding To Sea

    It is mandatory that, on every occasion, and without exception, crane jibs are lowered into the jib crutches and secured before putting to sea. The electric plugs and sockets are to be covered against the entry of water, and the electric cable is to be hoove sufficiently tight to prevent chaffing when the vessel is working in a seaway.

    All crane windows, doors, and ventilation hatches are closed and any portable guardrails and/or chains to be replaced. If your vessel carried grabs or other cargo handling equipment, they should be well secured on every occasion before the vessel proceeds to sea. Under no circumstances should they be left unsecured, even during short coastwise sea passage.

    Crane Reports

    "Gantry Crane Monthly Hours And Maintenance Report" must be made ship/crane specific and submitted to the management office each month. These are very important and have many uses; in particular, they will highlight recurring crane faults and problems which may be easily remedied. They also detail running hours, amount of cargo handled by each crane and each crane wire, and are therefore useful in forecasting a failure. It compares the actual amount of usage with the expected life of a particular component, so prevent downtime by taking preventative action before a failure occurs.

    Operation Of Lifting Equipment

    No person can operate lifting equipment without adequate training and familiarisation with the operating instructions. No appliance is to be operated in a manner other than described in the operating instructions. Persons who are permitted to operate equipment or assist in lifting equipment are to be fully conversant with the appropriate sections of the CODE OF SAFE WORKING PRACTICE.

    All lifting appliances are subject to load testing every five years with annual intermediate examinations. A register of lifting appliances and loose gear items is to be maintained up to date and ready for inspection by any regulatory authority.

    Lifting appliances must not be operated outside their design limits regarding the safe working load, wire-speed, list, trim or dynamic movement of the vessel. All these limitations are to be marked on the appliance.

    Controls are to be permanently and marked with their function and operating directions and instructions. Where special instructions apply to secure and unsecured of the equipment, these shall be separately detailed clearly. Controls must not be modified in any way from their original specification.

    All fitted safety devices limit switches, cut-offs or pawls are to be kept in good working order and tested regularly. Safety devices must never be isolated or overridden.

    Lifting appliances must always be attended when in the 'on' position. When work is completed the appliance is to be secured as applicable, and the power turned off.

    Personnel who are operating lifting equipment shall have no other duties and must have a clear view of the operation. Where this is not possible, a trained signaller is to be used to give directional instructions to the operator. The signals used are to comply with these detailed in the CODE OF SAFE WORKING PRACTICE.

    Personnel and signallers must not allow loads to pass over themselves.

    Transfer by Personnel Basket

    Under certain circumstances, the use of personnel baskets lifted by the ship's cranes presents less risk than the use of gangways or pilot ladders for access to the ship.

    Transfer by personnel basket is only permitted subject to the following conditions:- Besides, before arrival in any area where the use of baskets is probable, then the crane is to be thoroughly checked both mechanically and operationally by the Chief Engineer and the Chief Officer. It is to be verified by a log entry to the effect that this examination has been carried out.

    That a risk assessment is carried out and that this method if transfer presents the option with the least risk. That the operating procedure is documented including parameters such as weather etc.

    That the personnel driving the crane must have received appropriate training and instruction.

    That where the transfer is over water, lifejackets are worn by all personnel being transferred.

    That all personnel, including those being transferred, are briefed in the transfer procedure.

    In the normal type of basket, personnel can travel on the outside of the basket and put luggage inside.

    That transfer of the personnel is voluntary and at the discretion of the Master or Master's dependant whether it is ship to ship or ship to shore transfer.

    Slewing and Securing of Cargo Cranes

    In many cases, especially onboard container vessels equipped with cargo cranes, shore gantry cranes are used for loading and discharging. In such cases, the vessel's cargo cranes are not in use, and they have to be slewed before commencing of cargo operations towards the sea, at right angles to the ship's axis. After cargo operations, the jibs have to be secured back into the crutches.

    This operation has to be authorized by the Chief Officer who has to assure that no shore or sea obstructions are in the way of the jibs while they are operated.

    Sometimes it is necessary to move the jibs while shore or sea obstructions (such as gantry cranes) are in close vicinity of the jibs. However, as this will increase the possibility of making contact with them, the responsible foreman (stevedore foreman) must be consulted to seek verbal confirmation that all non-vessel's crane drivers are alerted and will not move their cranes towards the vessel's cargo cranes and jibs. The vessel is not to leave the berth until fully secured for sea even if tugs are alongside, and the pilot is onboard waiting to sail.

    Additional guideline while planning a container cargo stowage plan:

    1. Containership operation : Cargo Securing
      There are six degrees of motion at sea that a ship may have to encounter in a voyage. However, pitching, heaving, and rolling are three major forces that impact most on a containership's lashing arrangement. Lateral rolling motion factors the greatest challenge for piles of containers. If containers are to be carried safely on the deck of a container vessel, they must be tightly connected to the ship. It is done with the aid of devices known as twist locks. .....

    2. Containership operation : Common reasons for stowfall
      Container stows often fail due to container stacks being too heavy and too high overall, exposing the lower containers to excessive transverse racking and compressive forces due to the tipping effect. Such an anomaly may occur if the ship is unable to calculate the forces acting on stow with precision. The Cargo/Container Securing Manual is limited in this respect as the examples of container weight distributions shown may not cover all permutations and eventualities. Software programs have the advantage of taking into account all known variables........

    3. Containership operation: Cargo hold ventilation
      Cargo holds ventilation onboard a containership is very important as it minimizes the risk of harm or damage to cargo. A proper ventilation system assures the quality of the transported goods by preventing the formation of condensation in cargo spaces, reducing the harmful heating of the shipment, and removing potential hazardous gases from cargo spaces........

    4. Containership operation: Safety of personnel
      In port stevedores board the vessel for lashing, unlashing and cargo operations and their safety whilst on board is the vessels responsibility. It is important to understand that any injury caused to stevedores or shore personnel due to a condition on board being unsafe, can result in very large claims to the vessel. .....

    5. Containership operation: wet damage in cargo hold
      When water entered into a ship's cargo, hold it may cause wet damage to the cargo inside containers especially to those stowed on the bottom stack, unless the bilge water is drained in a proper and swift manner. The regular sounding of bilge well or monitoring bilge alarm must be one of the very important or rather essential routine jobs on board. However, this job requires special attention on board. All bilge alarm need to be tested regularly......

    6. Reefer cargo care at sea
      Unlike permanent cold stores or refrigerated ships, where robust equipment is under constant care by qualified personnel, the ISO refrigerated container may travel by several different modes and be in the care of many and varied people. Before being despatched to load refrigerated cargo (usually at shippers' premises), the container and its machinery should be subjected to a rigorous examination.......

    7. Containership cargo stowage and planning
      Master and officers of all vessels require a good working knowledge of the various kinds of cargo they are likely to carry their peculiar characteristics, liability to damage, decay, or deterioration, their measurement, and the usual methods of packing, loading and discharging, stowage, dunnage, etc., as the Master is responsible for the safe loading of his vessel and the proper storage of the cargo......

    8. Stacking Weights Restrictions
      rior loading cargo, stacking weights of containers must be checked against the allowable stack weights on board the vessel both on deck and under deck. Neglecting above may cause serious damage to ships structure, hull and eventually overall stabilty of ship may get affected. Maximum allowable stack weights of Tank tops, Hatch covers and Decks shall not be exceeded at any time......

    9. Lashing strength calculation
      Lashing strength of deck cargo shall be ascertained by using the appropriate lashing strength calculation software where provided. All resulting values for lashing strength must be within the tolerance limits prescribed by the vessels classification society......

    10. Dangerous goods stowage and segregation
      Clear guidelines apply to the stowage and segregation of Dangerous Goods and in some cases may require particular commodities to be carried in completely separate holds. The interaction of two cargoes will not occur if the packaging of that cargo remains intact. However, the Master must always consider the possible effect should the cargo escape for any reason and should not restrict his consideration to those cargoes which are listed in the IMDG Code......

    11. Reefer Container Stowage
      Reefer containers proposed for stowage must be accompanied by a reefer manifest. This reefer manifest should contain Container No., Stow position, Commodity, Temperature, and Ventilation status......

    12. Out of Gauge Container Stowage
      It is essential that, during out of gauge cargo operations, a careful watch is kept for any damage caused to the vessel, her equipment, or to containers. Notice of any damage must be immediately brought to the attention of the Stevedore's representative, the Port Captain/Supercargo and Charterers Agent. Damage reports must be completed in all cases giving the full and comprehensive details of damage caused......

    13. Special Container Stowage
      After receiving stowage plan ships, Chief Officer must ensure that all Deck Officers are aware of any specialized containers due to be worked, such as reefers, vents, over-heights, over-widths, flat racks, etc. and their unique requirements.....

    14. 20 or 40 or 45 feet Compulsory Stowage Locations
      Most cargo securing manual provide a guideline for different container types. These stow positions of 20 feet,40 feet, or 45 feet are also incorporated in a ship-specific stowage planning software and highlight errors if any violations occur......

    15. Irregular Stowage of Containers
      The Terminal Planner shall present the pre-loading plan to the Chief Officer to obtain his approval/comments. The Chief Officer, in turn, enters the cargo data in the loading computer and must ensure that the required criteria, concerning stack weights, trim/stability/stresses/ visibility limitations, DG cargo segregation, and specialized container requirements, are met. He should allow the bunker/freshwater consumption during the voyage and all possibilities of ballasting / deballasting. The completed loading plan must be presented to the ship's Master for approval.....

    16. Over-stow of Containers
      With a closed roof, the hardtop the container offers the same reliable protection as provided by a standard box. Hardtop containers have more lashing points than other container types. This guaran- tees reliable and convenient securing of cargo. .....

    17. Hatch Cover Clearance (High cube containers Under Deck )
      Hatch cover clearance must be checked carefully in case of loading over height containers or high cube containers underdeck......

    18. Other matters regarding cargo stowage as necessary
      Bulk products carried in a closed container might include malt, grain, seed, polythene granules, chemically inert powders, brake fluid, detergent, fruit juice, wine, non-hazardous oils, sodium silicate, fatty acids and maple syrup amongst many others......

    Other info pages !

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    Cargo & Ballast Handling Safety Guideline
    Reefer cargo handling Troubleshoot and countermeasures
    DG cargo handling Procedures & Guidelines
    Safety in engine room Standard procedures
    Questions from user and feedback Read our knowledgebase
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