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Nautilus Council member Captain Michael Lloyd responds to an article on slipping standards of seamanship by Richard Ballantyne of the British Ports Association.
BPA chief executive Richard Ballantyne is perfectly correct in highlighting the slipping of seamanship standards. This is as much regretted by those of us responsible for the seamanship in our profession as by himself. Seamanship is neglected in our colleges, owing to the limited time allowed for training in the required subjects for written examination. The subject of seamanship is left more for the oral examination, which is also limited in time, and the standard of the examiners has declined.
Richard's article is a welcome reminder to us of what needs to be improved. However, it would also be good if he helped to put his own house in order. If the ports accepted responsibility for plotting designated anchorage positions, sending advisory broadcasts of arriving and departing ships, and providing weather reports when particularly severe conditions are anticipated, this would all help in reducing anchorage accidents.
The situation of mooring gangs is also problematic. Once upon a time, the mooring gangs were trained and sufficiently manned to secure ships properly in good time. Now, this is often reduced to a few stevedores who are only capable of taking one line at a time and worse, only sufficient men to moor one end of the ship at a time. As a reminder, there should be sufficient personnel in the mooring party to enable a ship to send two lines at a time from each end. In poor weather with high wind conditions and large light ships, proper and timely mooring is essential for safety. While on this subject, many ports have failed to add or change their bollards to cope with the increasing length of ships – often causing head and stern lines to become breast lines or worse, springs.
Ports need to be reminded that the cargo is loaded to the ship's requirements, not the port's, as is the sailing time. Crews must ensure the ship is secured in such a way that she is ready in all respects to proceed to sea regardless of the weather, and at the time this may cause delays to the interests of the port. However, pressure on the ship to sail must be avoided at all costs, and recent accidents may possibly have shown why.
Possibly both sides need to get together and see if we can find a common approach with a memorandum of understanding between ship and port, with a common reporting system to highlight all perceived problems to the advantage of all
A berth should be cleared of gantries and cranes until the ship is alongside. Fenders should only be wide enough to allow the gangways to be lowered without having them extended at large angles to the berth. This causes cracking to the gangways and turntables, and in many cases provides unsafe access to the ship.
What would also help is if your cranes and gantries had a weight alarm system that would indicate immediately to port and ship whether any container or cargo was over the declared weight. Cranes all over the building sites in London have these, along with wi-fi transmitters to those responsible for the loading. As such alarm systems are purely wire stress meters, the cost and time to fit is minimal. Mind you, I am cognisant that the fitting of these would not please certain shippers.
Purely from a crew point of view, the berth should be clear of debris from the last ship, thus allowing a safe passage from the ship to the shore. Where a port requires safety gear to be worn while on port premises, then a changing room should be provided for people to leave this equipment when they go ashore beyond the port perimeter. Of course, it would be particularly thoughtful if the ports could provide internal transport for the crews, but we have been asking for this for the last 50 years to no avail except in exceptional ports.
So you see, Richard, we both have houses to put in order. Possibly both sides need to get together and see if we can find a common approach with a memorandum of understanding between ship and port, with a common reporting system to highlight all perceived problems to the advantage of all. But then again, we have been calling for such an approach for years with no movement from either side.
Do understand that this is not directed purely at BPA ports. It is in generalisation at all ports, good and bad, and while congratulating the good ports that try to accommodate ships with understanding, there, regrettably, are far too many that do not.
Fleetwood scheme links sea and port careers
A new partnership between Fleetwood Nautical Campus and Associated British Ports (ABP) has been launched to give Merchant Navy cadets a taste of the wider maritime sector.
Fifteen students headed to ABP Port of Fleetwood last month for a programme designed to equip them with a deeper understanding of port operations.
The students were exposed to the practical side of port operations through work shadowing, and they experienced pre-shift briefings and 'tool box talks' – a special type of safety talk practised by ABP.
Neil Atkinson of Fleetwood Nautical Campus thanked the port for the opportunity, commenting: 'The work experience element of the students' programme is vital to developing key skills which they will use when they go to sea, and gives them a valuable insight into the important role of seafarers ashore supporting the maritime industry in the UK.
'The Port of Fleetwood has provided an ideal work environment for our students to develop key skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork and time management.
Carl Bevan of ABP added: 'It was a pleasure to welcome these young and enthusiastic students to the Port of Fleetwood and we hope they managed to gain a valuable insight into port operations during the work experience.
'ABP is committed to attracting new talent to the maritime industry not just in Fleetwood, but across its vast network of 21 ports in the UK, so that together we can keep Britain trading and contribute to a brighter, more prosperous future.'