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How to avoid wet damage of containerized cargo inside holds?

To meet the thriving world market, transporting various merchandized products through intermodal containers involves numerous complexities. They need close supervision from the moment the boxes being loaded onboard until safely delivered to the destination. Nevertheless, the sea is often unpredictable, and shipping goods across the ocean is a risky business. Every year cargo claims due to wet damage inside containers are on the rise. Many experts believed a more significant number of these disputes could have been easily avoided if safety precautions and due diligence rules properly-being exercised.

Insufficient knowledge and inadequate skill training are the root causes of many cargo damages on board a container ship. Not understanding cargo stowage plan and lack of collaboration among ship and planning division is another reason that makes the subsequent cargo losses. We have summarized below some key guideline for avoiding wet damage in a container ship.

containerships operational matters
Oil Tanker Safety Guide
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.

Manholes checks.

The basis on past events and general industry shared experiences, leakages due to poor water tightens of the Manholes of the various tanks (WB, Fuel, Diesel, Void spaces, etc.) located inside the cargo hold is a significant source of cargo damage and flooding in general.

As such, every time a manhole is opened for any reason and later restored in position (especially after DD) the water tightens is to be checked by filling/ pressurizing the relevant tank and visually inspecting the condition of the manhole. Obviously, gaskets that are not in good condition should be renewed and adequate spares need to be maintained onboard at all times. Closing / sealing of opened manholes should be executed under Ch. Officer’s personal supervision.

Container ship loaded condition

Hold bilge systems

Before loading any containerized, bulk, or other general cargo, crewmembers should always inspect the hold bilge systems to ensure that everything is in good working order. Debris from most bulk and general cargoes often finds its way into the hold bilge areas and should be removed manually. After cleaning the bilge area, it is essential that the bilge sounding pipes, bilge suctions, and bilge non-return valves are tested and verified.

Sounding pipes often get blocked and become unusable due to cargo residues being left in the bilge well and entering the bottom of the sounding pipe, in the case for a long time, the cargo residue dries out and solidifies. It can be prevented if the sounding pipes are hosed out with water from the deck level after the hold has been washed and bilges have been cleaned. Alternatively, an airline can be used to clear out blocked sounding pipes.

Broken sounding rods left in the sounding pipe are also a problem; therefore, they must be removed on time. Sounding caps left off or not fully secured during loading or discharging operations increase the risk of cargo entering the sounding pipe and causing a blockage. Striking plates for the sounding pipes are situated in the hold bilge well and checked for wastage when the bilges had been cleaned.

Masters responsibility - Cargo Hold Bilges(C/H Bilges)

The Master is responsible for ensuring that all cargo hold bilges are operating and for monitoring the daily soundings. It must also be assured that at all times, bilge wells, including filters, are clean.

The Chief Officer is responsible for the proper maintenance and operation of cargo hold bilges and for monitoring the daily soundings. The Officer of the Watch at Sea and in Port is responsible for monitoring the Cargo Hold Bilge Alarm Systems, alerting the Master and Ch. Officer when an alarm is activated and keeping the relevant records. He is also responsible for being fully aware of the vessel's C/H Bilge Alarm System's operational condition. He needs to ensure, in case of malfunction of the main system, all alternate methods are utilized, and be alerted in case of flooding. Anything abnormal must be immediately reported to the Master. The Officer of the Watch is entitled to use any additional equipment & system and/or request additional workforce to perform his duties efficiently.

C/H bilge soundings and record-keeping

Deck ratings must carry out daily soundings of all cargo hold bilges and report accordingly to the Chief Officer. The C/H bilges must also be subject to visual inspection (at sea and in port). The readings should be recorded in the "C/H Bilge Soundings Log" without delay. The C/H Bilge Soundings Log should be on a hardcover notebook with serialized pages. i.e., No electronic files and no loose page folders are accepted for record-keeping. The daily records (usually in the forms of notes) from the Bosun will be transferred to this log by the C/O without delay, and the same notes (Bosun notes) will be maintained for three months by the C/O readily available for inspection on request.

The C/H Bilge Soundings Log should be retained in the Cargo Office when the vessel is underway at the port and in the bridge, enabling the Officer of the Watch and the Master to have immediate access to the latest readings if needed.

Furthermore, the daily soundings will be followed by regular visual inspections as well. Under no circumstances, the vessel is to consider the daily checks are completed unless the visual inspection is done. The Master needs to ensure these records are properly completed and kept. He is to countersign the log at the end of each month by stating, "Having reviewed the records of this log, I verify that they are truthful, accurate and correct" Name–Rank–Date, and Signature.

Record-Keeping Interference. In general, these records will not be affected by any other document kept already as a requirement of the shipboard safety Management System. The Bridge Log Book, for example, already contains several fields for recording the same data. The vessel is to maintain both records.

Function Tests of C/H Bilge Alarm System

The cargo hold bilge alarm system, being a critical subsystem, is to be tested weekly with utmost care while exercising manual activation of the high-level sensors. Furthermore, consider a quarterly test of all alarms of cargo hold bilge wells via the sounding pipes. It can be (or other equivalent access if more suitable) with seawater and awaiting the sensor's actual activation and the subsequent alarm.

The activation of the sensors by hand is only an indicative method of testing. It has proved in many cases that even though the system was activated by hand, it failed to respond during the simulation of actual conditions (by filling the bilge wells with water). In this regard, we have to highlight the importance of the bi-weekly testing of the system by filling with water the bilge wells via the sounding pipes. The test should be included in the vessel's PMS. Cargo Hold bilge alarms must be included in the list of equipment identified as critical.


The general condition and the maintenance of the cargo hold bilges should be of the highest quality, maintain at the operational level as described in the relevant drawings/manuals. If any of the above requirements are not met, the Technical Managers must be notified at the soonest opportunity. The vessel is to arrange immediate repairs and condition upgrade.

Actions after a C/H bilge alarm is activated.

The first thing that the Officer of the Watch should do (at the port or sea) after a C/H bilge alarm is activated is to notify the Master and the C/O at any time of the day or night. Once this done the same is to be recorded to the Deck Log Book, and Cargo Holds Bilge Alarm Monitoring with a permanent pen.

You are reminded that in all locations where a C/H Bilge Alarm Panel is fitted, a laminated poster with the below wording in red/bold capital letters should be exhibited next to the Panel: "ON EACH OCCASION OF C/H BILGE ALARM ACTIVATION THE MASTER AND THE CH. OFFICER SHOULD BE ALERTED WITHOUT DELAY AT ANY TIME, DAY OR NIGHT"

A visual inspection of the relevant Cargo Hold is to be completed immediately to accurately identify the actual conditions for the activation of the bilge alarm. Only after the visual inspection is completed and only after the crew is confident that the alarm was activated by clean water we can start pumping out water via the OB, this is to rule out that the signal was not activated by leaking fuels/lube/hydraulic oil/dangerous cargo or any other pollutant. The same is to be recorded in the Deck Log Book and with a permanent pen.

When possible, the above discharge is to be monitored by someone from the main deck, to ensure that no oily traces appear near the OB discharge. In general, it is recommended not to discharge bilges OB when at port.

If the bilge wells are not accessible and/or the crew cannot decisively determine if the water is clean or contains any pollutants, the bilge content is to be transferred to the Bilge Holding Tank. The same is to be recorded in the Deck Log Book, and the ORB (using the proper entry code as per IMO MEPC 736 Rev.2) with a permanent pen. Pumping/handling of cargo hold bilge water should not be delegated to ratings.

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