In a recent position paper, the Swedish Club warned bulk carrier operators to pay attention to watertight integrity, as the average cost for a wet damage cargo claim is almost $110,000. In this article, global British ultrasonics experts, Coltraco Ultrasonics, break down why this is the case.
Why is watertight integrity an issue?
In 1989 IACS introduced its guidance to owners concerning the care and survey of hatchcovers as follows:
“Loss of weather-tight integrity continues to be a constant factor leading to cargo damage which could result in a threat to the safety of the crew, the ship and its cargoes, despite advances in modern shipbuilding technology, construction, navigation and means of preventing ingress of water into hold spaces.”
Little appears to have changed over the intervening years.
What risk does water ingress pose to the crew?
Lives are at stake. This is unacceptable.
As the main cause of vessel loss is sinking, the maintenance, testing and monitoring of watertight hatches, doors and multiple cable transits on vessels is essential.
The case study of the 2015 El Faro disaster exemplifies the danger of water ingress. SS El Faro was a United States-flagged, combination roll-on/roll-off and lift-on/lift-off cargo ship crewed by U.S. merchant mariners. All 33 crew members tragically died in the sinking, when El Faro sailed from Jacksonville into Hurricane Joaquin, while heading to Puerto Rico. The wreckage was discovered more than 15,000 feet below the sea surface, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, Bahamas. The NTSB have concluded that gaps in safety management contributed to the sinking of the El Faro. One of the significant issues was “poor watertight integrity which allowed seawater into the ship” stating that this accident may have been avoided if “crew had more information about the status of the hatches”. The tragedy of the El Faro has exemplified why it is crucial for the watertight integrity of vessels to be upheld.
Coltraco Ultrasonics strongly believe that tragic incidences such as these must become a thing of the past. Safety of life at sea is paramount when pushing forward with the implementation and development of regulations.
What concerns have been voiced?
Water ingress on board ships can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo.
The Swedish P&I Club have recently stressed that proper weathertightness is a key factor in keeping cargo dry and crew safe. To ensure that the hatch covers are weathertight the sealing system needs to be in a good condition.
The North of England P&I Club state that defective hatch cover maintenance is an “expensive problem with a low-cost solution”.
What are hatch covers?
A watertight hatch cover is designed to prevent the passage of water in either direction under a head of water for which the surrounding structure is designed. Many mariners may think hatches are robust, monolithic structures, thereby failing to appreciate the small tolerances on panel alignment and gasket compression. It is better to think of hatches as complex, finely-made structures, to be handled with care.
How are we failing to protect the crew by maintaining hatch covers?
Wrongly applied and poorly maintained cargo hatch covers tester and sealing systems increase the risk of cargo becoming damaged by water. The most common wet cargo problems include leaking cross joints, and compression bars, rubber gaskets, hatch coamings, drain channels and cleats in poor condition.
The importance of continually maintaining seal integrity must take a more prominent position in ship maintenance scheduling as demanded by regulations:
SOLAS Reg II-1/11.1 it states that hatches and watertight seals must be regularly tested: “Where a hose test is not practicable [sic] it may be replaced by [sic] an ultrasonic leak test or an equivalent test. In any case a thorough inspection of the watertight bulkheads shall be carried out.”
How have hatch covers been tested traditionally?
Chalk testing is used traditionally for visual inspection of the compression integrity of doors and hatches on vessels that hold the potential for flooding. Chalk is applied evenly around the knife edge, coaming compression bars or panel cross seams of doorways. The door/hatch is then closed and sealed. Once re-opened the rubber gasket which pushes against the knife edge is visually inspected for the chalk line. Any breaks in the chalk line indicate a lack of compression in that area. It must be noted that chalk testing is NOT a leak test, but only provides an indication of potential compression issues
The International Association of Classification Societies states that a chalk test must be followed by a hose test. The hose test is used in conjunction to determine the weather tightness of doors and hatch covers. The spray from a nozzle of 12mm diameter is sprayed from a distance of 1 to 1.5 meters with a water jet pressure of 0.5
This test should help identify any leakage from the hatch joints, although the exact location of the leakage sight cannot be pinpointed.
Why are these methods no longer recommended by P&I clubs?
Various drawback come with chalk and hose testing, for instance;
Both of these tests are time-consuming and sometimes completely impractical. Some circumstances have been highlighted that prevent this test from being conducted such as the hose test if dry cargo is within the hold being tested but these tests conducted at port or in dry dock will never reproduce conditions when the ship is at sea and therefore cannot expect to achieve the same standard. Claims resulting from water damage due to leaking hatch covers still contribute a huge part of the overall loss figures on dry cargo ships. This method is neither accurate nor time effective.
What is the alternative?
The Swedish P & I club recommend using Ultrasound. As stated in their 2018 report “A much more effective method is to use an ultrasonic device, which is designed for this purpose and can pinpoint the area which is leaking, and if the compression of the gasket is sufficient. The advantages of using this type of equipment are evident, since ultrasonic tests can be carried out during any stage of the loading without risking cargo damage. The test can also be completed in sub-zero temperatures. The ultrasonic test should be carried out as per the class requirements.”
Ultrasonic testing is a dramatically more sensitive, accurate and reliable method for testing cargo hatch covers, bulkheads and doors for watertight integrity on all vessels. A multi-directional ultrasound emitter is placed in a hold. The opening being tested is then sealed and the receiver switched on ready to receive any leakage of ultrasound via a set of headphones. An increased reading of ultrasound signal signifies an issue with the integrity of the door/hatch. Further, and closer inspection will allow identification of any specific leakage sight along with the severity. This test will take approximately 10 minutes and requires only one operator.
Which is the best ultrasonic test kit for hatch cover testing?
Owners, managers, marine surveyors, third party servicing companies and other mariners have pledged their support for the Portascanner® WATERTIGHT for years.
For 3 simple reasons: “it is faster, better, cheaper” than any competitor. But don’t take Coltraco Ultrasonics’ word for it, here are 3 customer testimonials:
“We did some transit inspection work on one of our customers vessel using the Portascanner and we are very pleased with your instrument. We are looking forward extending our service offer using it.” – Techsol Marine, Canada
“The fleet was equipped with a unit per Bulk Carrier and the units are and working well, providing the confidence that there will be no problems with water damage claims.” Ship Management Company
“Our PORTASCANNER WATERTIGHT unit performed well during the entire period of use, proved rugged and we feel sure that if it had not required returning for mandatory calibration and certification, the unit would have performed well for many more years to come.” Captain J.F. Holmes, Botrans
The Portascanner® WATERTIGHT is:
Coltraco Ultrasonics’ mission delivering Safeship® solutions to improve safety of life, assets and vessels at sea. They do by manufacturing high quality British instrumentation, supplied to over 100 countries worldwide, since 1987. Coltraco Ultrasonics focus on benefitting the crew; designing innovative ultrasonic solutions which the crew will be happy to use by being easy to operate, quick, accurate and a better method to traditional techniques. Thus increasing the likelihood of tests being regularly conducted, in line with regulations and even going above and beyond for more frequent testing. By so doing, the crew will be creating a safer ship.
Discover more about Coltraco Ultrasonics’ commitment to customer care and safety on www.coltraco.com.