Watchkeeper: More thoughts on safe ports
Ships and their physical “envelopes” are getting bigger, in virtually every shipping sector and the question as to whether a port or terminal is capable of accommodating the new dimensions is one that is increasingly being asked. Indeed the “safe port” question was one of the important matters which featured in the BIMCO “Double Jeopardy” simulations last year.
Who is the arbitrator of “safety” in this question? The owner will direct a master to take a ship into a port which he believes is, in every respect, “safe” because he has been assured of this fact by the port authority. To do otherwise would be foolhardy in the extreme.
But with the upswing in ship sizes, it seems to be the case that in many cases, margins of safety, which one would normally suggest as the depth under the keel, length of swinging basins and even the height of the ship under bridges and gantries, are often being reduced. It is also generally easier for a shipowner to purchase a bigger ship, than for a port authority to embark on a dredging scheme to provide adequate clearance for the new vessels!
Port authorities may well be trying hard to “squeeze” the bigger ships into the existing port and, as a result, finding the commercial managers at odds with the operational managers. It would not be the first time that a port authority, anxious to accommodate business, meets objections from those people whose job it will be to keep the ship safe in port waters. The harbour master may have grave reservations and wish to amend his criteria for safely moving ships. Pilots, who will be even more directly affected as they are the ones who will directly handle the ships, may also express their concerns about the safety of these manoeuvres with ships over certain dimensions. There may be worries about the capability of the tugs to handle the “over-sized” new ships.
The owner or charterer find themselves confused by assertions to the effect that the port is safe from the commercial managers, which appear to be contradicted by the reservations of the operational people, should these stray into the public realm. Whose assurances can be trusted?
There may well be reason for concern, particularly if it is known that the physical limitations advertised by the port have been recently increased, but without any evidence of work done, such as dredging or channel widening, to justify these new limits. The sensible course of a prudent ship operator, faced with these doubts, would be to despatch somebody who had the necessary expertise to the port to ascertain the reality. A marine or operational superintendent would be in a position to see for himself whether there were undue risks attached to taking the ship into the port and make decisions accordingly. This would remove the burden of doubt from the master and provide some assurance of safety, in a port which may well give the appearance of having somewhat shrunk, since a previous visit in a smaller ship!