Ship maintenance, manifest problems on the rise
When freight rates for bulk vessels skyrocketed two years ago, it became increasingly common to find substandard ships making their way into U.S. ports.
Now that there's too much bulk vessel capacity on the market and rates are sharply down, these problems have compounded as owners and operators have also cut back on basic onboard maintenance.
The National Cargo Bureau, a New York-based not-for-profit that inspects the stowage, securing and loading of cargo on merchant vessels on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard, has witnessed a disturbing trend of improper maintenance particularly onboard foreign-flag grain and coal ships in U.S. Gulf ports.
Capt. James McNamara, National Cargo Bureau president, told attendees at the bureau's board meeting in Washington this week, that 'although the certificates may be in place more things involving maintenance are out of place.'
Insufficient maintenance leads to possible dangers, not just to the vessel crews but also to the safety of navigation in waterways and ports, the marine environment, and integrity of the cargo in their holds, he explained.
The bureau's staff has also experienced increased encounters with improperly trained seafarers on vessels.
'We're seeing seafarers getting on ships that they're not familiar with, such as going from a tanker to a bulk ship,' McNamara said. 'We worked aboard a foreign ship last week where the master was unfamiliar with the stability of his ship.'
In addition, the National Cargo Bureau believes the down global economy has encouraged more shippers to improperly classify cargoes. For instance, a U.S.-flag ship en route from northern Europe several weeks ago experienced a container fire. The box contained a shipment of misdeclared charcoal. Most carriers will not transport charcoal due to its flammable nature. McNamara said fortunately the crew had fairly easy access to the burning box in order to pierce and flood it with water. ' Chris Gillis