In any kind of a cargo ship, it is the cargo space that brings in the money. In the past the cargo arrangement for container ships was pretty straight forward and the restrictive factors were quite easy to understand and control. However, with the growing container ship sizes also the complexity of the cargo system has grown in terms of container positions and weights, vessel stability, container moves etc. This has led to a mismatch between nominal and actual payload capacity, and to a situation where the optimum payload capacity is not utilized to its full potential and earning ability. The situation can be improved by proper training of the ship’s personnel and the cargo planning experts.
The cargo system of a container ship consists of hatch covers, lashing bridges, container securing hardware, cell guides and lashing software and in best case the system is designed to take in an optimized amount of cargo. It should be noted here that a cargo system really is a system, where changes in one part influence its other parts and where the weakest link defines its performance. If a big ship for example has a high lashing bridge but the hatch covers are not designed for mixed stowage, stability issues may prevent some available payload intake. .
The two factors affecting the cargo intake are the cargo system design and the knowledge level of the people using it at sea and in port.
It is crucial that the users understand why the cargo system has been designed as it is and what are the design criteria, and on the other hand the cargo system designers still have a lot to learn from the daily challenges on board. There has to be a channel to combine the viewpoints of the designers and of those who use the equipment.
We have seen how containers have unnecessarily been left ashore due to lacking understanding of the cargo system usage and capacity and decided that it is time to do something about it, says Henri Paukku, Manager for Operation Support at MacGregor.
Some limiting factors we have noticed:
The lashing forces limit the container intake. If the cargo planning does not understand what is the best way of loading, an alternative way of taking containers on board can’t be found and all available cargo can’t be taken on board.
If stowage planners and superintendents know exactly what the cargo system is capable of, they can take actions in advance at the cargo and route planning stage which make the life easier to the ship’s personnel when the time of cargo operations is at hand.
It is in terminals’ interest to decide the locations of the containers on the shore side and in which order they are brought to the vessel and they have good software for land-based operations. However, if the terminals had a deeper understanding of a vessel’s cargo system intake, they could for their part ease the complexity of loading procedures by bringing in the containers in an optimized sequence. Each terminal is of course different but according to our understanding their softwares today serve well for optimizing the terminal area usage but do not necessarily support the loading operations.
What matters to the ship are the stability and the loading plan. Therefore it would help if the terminals had an easy way to bring in the containers in the correct order. This sequence is important also from revenue point of view (best-paying containers) and should be planned well in advance. When the ship is mooring it is too late.
In case of new container ships the crucial moment in taking into use their full potential is of course the first sailing round. But a lot can be done in advance to ensure a smooth and successful outcome, says Tero Sairanen, a Master mariner who has been planning and conducting the trainings for MacGregor container ship cargo systems.
The traditional way of informing ships about their cargo systems is that the suppliers deliver a cargo securing manual and go through the products with the client, but e.g. stowage arrangements have not been a part of trainings at all. One of the root causes for this is that traditionally the parts of a cargo system such as hatch covers, lashing bridges, container securing hardware, cell guides and lashing software come from various suppliers, which is a challenge to a holistic approach.
If all parts of the cargo system are designed and delivered by one party, it is easy to take the necessary steps for improving the cargo system utilization rate from day #1. This has enabled MacGregor to develop an introductory service called Productivity Care which is a part of each full cargo system delivery. The purpose of this service is to ensure a smooth introduction of the cargo system to its users and to hand over all related information and hardware.
The service consists of trainings for different user groups (crew, ship’s officers, back-office personnel), training materials, checklists, and verification of the functionality of the hardware and software.
All training material is based on the design information and supports the usage as defined together with the ship’s owner in the cargo system design phase. This information is combined with the issues that are important in daily work on board.
The purpose is to make the knowledge really stick on board so that the cargo system understanding does not leave the ship even though the crews change along the way. This is ensured by clear materials and handover procedures and with repeated trainings e.g. during crew training camps when needed.
The trainings are conducted for each target group separately; the officers’ training focuses on general cargo system knowledge and related principles while the crew training is more hands-on. Both the officers and the crew are walked through the ship (literally!) from bow to stern, all cargo system parts and their function is introduced and it is also explained e.g. how the cargo system features in bow and stern areas differ from each other and why.
After the trainings, the training booklets remain on board and are used for handover of knowledge when the crews change. For big container vessel personnel, separate lashing checklists are submitted. These are handy pocket-size cards that contain the key instructions in a nutshell.
When the ship’s representative meets the port foreman to go through the cargo operations plan before the work starts, he will now be able to give the port a clear instruction document including a visual “easy to digest” guidance about vessel characteristics.
Some practical issues that have come up during the trainings:
- The trainings speed up learning process and in some cases help the users to learn things that they may not have learned at all if the training would have been based on self-learning.
- Old procedures that have “always been there” are revealed, discussed and questioned; e.g. lashing of the 4th tier is different today compared with how it was done before.
- “Never stack a heavy container on a lighter one” – this is not true anymore. On big container ships this can be done and can be even beneficial, but the personnel should understand when it is useful, in which cases it is not allowed, and what are the pros and cons. All this can be simulated in advance with modern tools.
- The cargo planning and the land-based staff can have an overview of the whole rotation and can optimize the cargo system usage for the whole rotation.
- The trainings help communication and transfer of information between the users and designers of the cargo system.
At the moment MacGregor is in the process of serving their first shipsets with an out-and-out smooth introduction and training process. We have trained the back-office personnel, the ship personnel for each vessel and our representative has sailed on board the vessels for the first legs to see how the operations are getting started, to answer to any questions the users might have and to give further instructions and training whenever necessary, states Tero Sairanen.
It naturally helps if the whole cargo system comes from one supplier, but a lot can be done also for sailing ships regardless of where the cargo system parts come from.
As a separate service it is possible to run an analysis of the cargo system for any sailing container vessels with any cargo system parts to find out what limitations exist in its current cargo system. As result we can suggest what can be done in another way in order to for example reach a better stability condition and to be able to improve the cargo system utilization. We can also check whether the loading computer works correctly with respect to forces – the loading computer programs are usually good for stability calculations but for lashing calculations a lashing-specific program should be applied. We can also run a compatibility check between the loading computer and the cargo planning office tools to see that they perform as planned and support the optimized usage of the cargo system. Such analyses and checks allow us to propose improvements and we can also follow up the vessel to see that the agreed things will be done differently and that the anticipated capacity improvement really takes place, says Mr. Sairanen.
This is to prevent what can happen in the worst case: The cargo planners or masters and chief officers on board make decisions with inadequate start-up information, the software does not work as planned, and the cargo planning can’t take into account what would be the best loading arrangement for the ship and its cargo system. All this can result in loss of earnings due to containers left behind for wrong reasons or in opposite case the loaded cargo may exceed the force limits and the risk of losing containers at sea increases.
To conclude, a cargo system truly is a system consisting of all its parts and operated by people. In the current tough market no containers should remain unloaded due to poor cargo system knowledge. The best way to ensure that the full cargo system potential is taken into use from day #1 is to make the design and its users meet. This can be achieved by dedicated cargo system analysis and trainings.
The paper is based on interview with Henri Paukku and Tero Sairanen by Outi Jokinen
The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.