Cargo claims arising from water ingress into the holds via ballast tanks, bilges, and related pipe work tend to be costly in terms of both cargo claims, and in delay to the vessel.
Water from ballast and bilge systems, can enter cargo holds via a variety of routes or causes, such as:
• Impact damage during cargo operations – i.e., due to impact from grabs, bulldozers or slung cargo such as steel plates.
• Leaking ballast tank manhole covers due, for example, to failure of the gaskets or insufficient securing/tightening of nuts and bolts.
• Valves between the ballast main and hold, or overboard valves not being closed properly, or failure of non-return valves in the bilges.
• Corrosion of steel, where localised corrosion is so severe that the steel integrity fails under pressure, or in extreme cases - where corrosion holes have appeared.
Whilst the first three of the above examples may result from a single event, corrosion occurs over time, and can often be attributable to a prolonged lack of satisfactory maintenance.
A recent example encountered by Lodestar involved a bilge eject pipe on deck where the underside of the pipe work had corroded unchecked, allowing significant water ingress during heavy weather, resulting in a considerable cargo claim. The location of the pipe made full inspection difficult, and the underside did not appear to have been painted as regularly as the easily accessible top side. All remaining deck pipes were checked for corrosion, and whilst recently painted, some were found to be severely corroded and in need of replacement.
A major requirement of the Lodestar Loss Prevention vessel condition survey is that the ballast tanks are tested hydrostatically (pressed up), and the bilges (including non-return valves) tested in order to evidence that ballast tanks and pipes are operable and do not leak. These tests will however, only be conducted when shipboard operations and local regulations permit, and even then it only gives a snapshot of the vessel condition at the time of testing.
In addition to twice daily tank, void space, and bilge sounding, it is strongly recommended that, where appropriate and practicable, our Assureds implement monthly ballast tank and bilge testing as part of their vessel’s planned maintenance system in order to confirm and record that ballast tanks, bilges and associated pipes do not leak. Furthermore, if a routine sounding or remote monitoring of a ballast tank, void space or bilge reveals a sudden or unexpected increase or reduction in level, a thorough investigation should be carried out to ascertain the cause of the change.
Such routine maintenance does not just benefit the P&I Insurer by averting avoidable claims, it also saves ship Owners from time lost whilst their ship is arrested, or delay while the rejected quantity of cargo remaining on board is disposed of, and also from paying deductibles and premium increases at renewal.
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