RoRo Ferries – Operations

Q. What pre-load preparations must be done on a car carrier?
1. Lashing Gear:
First the lashing gear (light and heavy straps, chain lashings, bar-lashing etc.) is collected in bundles with each bundle containing 10 to 20 straps. These are stowed on steel bars on the ship-side, in the holds and in various decks, at uniform distance apart. This is to ensure easy availability for lashing the cars during loading operations. This also gives a chance to make a tally of the gear. The lashings are kept on the side of the loading track-way of the next port’s stowage area.

2. Cleaning of Decks:
All decks are cleaned free of dust, oil stains and the other remains from previous load. Most of the vessels have motor operated sweepers (broom and vacuum suction). Oil stains can be caused mostly from used cars. It is imperative to have the decks absolutely clean.
Bilges are cleaned and tested at the end of each voyage. Pumps and motors for the ramp are put in neutral and tried out at the commencement of each voyage.

3. Preparing Ramp:
Rubber mats are placed below the ramps to prevent the damage to jetty during the surging of the vessel.  Ramp is properly manned as this also serves as the entry point for visitors. Some ramps have a passage on the side of the ramp while others have the walk-way fenced by guard-line.  Walkway is painted yellow.

4. Ventilation:
Ventilation is switched on at least 30 minutes prior loading commences and is to be kept on through the entire cargo operation and also till at least 30 minutes after the cargo operations are completed. This is to ensure that the space is free of fumes and Carbon-monoxide.

5. Stowage Plan:
The Car-Carrier trade is a fast turnaround trade. The ship’s head office has the complete deck plan of the vessel and also the details of the bunkers, ballast and fresh-water. Office is also informed of the sequence of consumption from the tanks. The office has experienced Masters and Chief Officers who do the stowage planning ashore, simulate the weights on the computers and work out the stability. Most car-trading companies have developed a Stowage Planning System (SPS), by which a stowage plan can quickly be put on the screen of a Personal Computer. The drawing of each ship and a model of vehicles is fed into the PC along with the ballast, FW, Bunkers, details. The office e-mails this to the Master for approval well before the vessel’s arrival at the load port.

6. Pre-Load/Discharge Meeting of Ship’s Staff:
Once the loading plan and the Stability is worked out by the shore planners, it is double checked by the Chief Officer and then approved by the Master. The Mate has a meeting with the deck officers, deck crew and cadets. Each of the ship’s staff is aware of the relevant aspect of loading plan and the sequence. The ship’s staff is also aware of the positioning of ramp. The laying out of dunnage, lashing chains etc. and the vertical clearances are also noted by each. The Chief Engineer is informed of the time of loading and the requirements for blower.
Most importantly, the tidal prediction for the port is worked out by the Second Mate and is given to the Chief Officer, duty officer, Duty-AB, and all concerned. The ramp angles and the middle ramp are adjusted to avoid any damage or delay.

7. Pre-Load/Discharge Meeting of Ship’s Staff with Stevedores:
Time is an important factor in the highly competitive PCC trade. Therefore, a very professional system is adapted to conduct the cargo operations. A Pre-Load/Discharge meeting, is held in the ship’s cargo office between the Stevedore and the Chief Officer. The Duty Officer, bosun and the cadets are also made to attend the meeting. Safety is always paramount in the entire planning. The sequence of cargo operations viz. opening of hold doors, setting of internal ramps and their operation is discussed amongst the concerned. The cargo plan, the number of gangs to be employed, the details of cargo operation, the probable time and the time required by the stevedores for securing is also discussed.

Q. What difficulties are presented by the stowage related issues on Ro-Ro vessels?
Among the difficulties which cargo stowage presents to the Ro-Ro operators are the following:

  1. Advance readiness of lashing material: To keep the lashing material ready is difficult because the space has also to be provided for vehicles to drive & reach the final stow position. Also, the range of sizes which may have to be accommodated is really not known.
  2. Non standard cargoes: Many of the cargoes such as trailers and lorries are designed primarily for road usage they may not be having adequate securing points.
  3. Internal lashings: Sometimes, the units loaded may have cargoes within, the securing of which may be faulty & the same may not be detectable on board may cause hazard later.
  4. Random arrival of cargo units: The order in which the units arrive some times when not known to the ship’s officers can cause delay & inconvenience.
  5. Stiff ships: Some cargo units individually may be top heavy, whereas the ship itself may be very stiff with small roll period. This may cause the toppling of the trailers.

Q. What are the problem areas of a car carrier?
Although, Ro-Ros are very successful type vessel, somewhere the safety is not given it’s deserved due in my opinion. The whole design & many other element make Ro-Ro ferry a vessel different from the rest.

  1. Only a few internal bulkheads: Since the vessels normally should be driven to reach the slot allotted, large decks are required. These decks prove very hazardous in the event of hull breach & even in case of fire.
  2. Cargo access doors: The cargo access doors are often at the stern and bow. Weakness in the areas most vulnerable to damage. Watertightness can get impaired upon slightest of denting, bending etc especially when door  also serves as a ramp.
  3. Stability: The movement of heavy vehicle, ingress of water following damage or from faulty watertight & large windage areas are the areas of concern.
  4. Cargo access doors very close to the waterline: Heavy rolling, pitching, adverse list / trim etc. Can get the water enter the hull with slightest of leakage.
  5. Cargo stowage and securing: A heavy load which breaks loose can cause havoc, even breaking the other lashings. A 10 tonner trailer can move to ship side like a torpedo.
  6. High casualty index: Ship’s rapid listing in post damage times, the high sides & lack of adequate familiarization of passengers of the ship makes the casualty number very high.
  7. Status of subdivision at the time of damage: There is a fair possibility of the subdivision not in the sea going state owing to good weather, short routes, close distance from port, convenience for crew or passengers, for maintenance reasons etc. But the post damage time available is too short.

Q. What precautions must be taken during cargo operation?
Traffic and atmosphere control is most important in respect of safety of people who operate or assist in cargo operation.

To prevent vehicular accident:

  1. Experienced and duly trained drivers must operate.
  2. Signalmen must be stationed at key points.
  3. Drivers must perform a brake check.
  4. Use of mobiles or listening to music on headphones must not be allowed.
  5. Vehicles must never be operated in blind vision.
  6. Parking area, route and the vehicle lights must be on.
  7. Overtaking is out of question. The movement must be properly managed. Only one vehicle is supposed to transit a ramp at any time.
  8. Speed limit must be maintained.
  9. Personnel must stay clear of lanes,moving decks, ramps, etc.

To ensure safety of ship:

  1. Cargo loaded within vehicles must be duly secured.
  2. Ignition must be switched off upon reaching final position.
  3. Ventilators must  be started well before loading starts and must be left running.
  4. The watertight door must be duly shut when not required to be open.
  5. The angle of the loading ramps must stay within limits.
  6. Cargo loading plan and sequence must be well discussed amongst the stevedore and ship’s staff.
  7. Appropriate dress, aids must be worn by everyone.

Q. What are the different types of cargo loaded on Ro-Ro?
The different types of cargoes handled by Ro-Ro ships include:

  • road trailer up to about 12.5m in length, 3m in height, weighing up to 35 tonnes;
  • mafi trailer (platforms for cargo towing) up to 18 t/axle;
  • tugmasters which are the tractors for moving the cargoes in the terminal;
  • rectangular palettes;
  • specalised containers; and
  • cars.

Q. How are securing points on deck provided for quick securing?
The lashing material used to quickly secure the parts may involve modified turn buckles with ‘S’ hooks on either side to attach to the car and the slots on deck respectively. The lashing material that may come in contact with the car may be appropriately coated. Usually, a single pull of a lever or a rope tightens the lashings.

Q. What precautions must be taken when dealing with the car lashings?
The precautions which must be observed are:

  • wheel chocks or stirrups of sufficient height should be used;
  • hooks should not be excessively stressed;
  • damaged belts, corroded wire ropes or chains should not be used;
  • parking brake and steering lock must be in position with ignition off.

Q. Are you aware about any accidents that occurred on a Ro-Ro ship?
In one of the cases, the vessel’s third officer, who was overseeing the cargo operations, was struck and fatally injured by a semi-trailer that was being pushed down the vessel’s stern ramp to the quayside. The third officer was talking on his mobile telephone and was facing down the ramp, away from the direction of the semi-trailer’s approach, when he was struck. He probably did not hear the trailer approaching amongst the noise from cargo operations on other decks, and he was standing away from a pedestrian walkway that was painted along the starboard edge of the ramp. The tractor driver was unable to see the third officer due to the semi-trailer blocking his view.

In another accident, the chief officer and the deck cadet had just lowered an adjacent ramp. The chief officer, standing at the operating control console, did not have a full view of the ramp, but could see the cadet. The two maneuvering actuators (ramp legs) were lowered down and placed in the location sockets on the deck below and the cadet confirmed that the ramp was ready for lowering.
The chief officer started lowering the ramp. While it was lowered down about 10 cm, the rubber seal probably caught on the fixed ramp section. The maneuvering actuators continued to retract and came out of their location sockets, leaving the ramp hanging on the rubber seal only. Then suddenly, the rubber seal disengaged from the fixed ramp section causing the hinged ramp to swing down on to the cadet.

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