Alarm call over timber cargos

SERIOUS concerns were raised today over the safety of cargo ships carrying timber, after a series of accidents in the North Sea – including one off Suffolk.

By Richard Cornwell

SERIOUS concerns were raised today over the safety of cargo ships carrying timber, after a series of accidents in the North Sea – including one off Suffolk.

Beachcombers at Felixstowe had a field day when a vessel shed its load of wood as it sailed along the county's coast last autumn.

People turned up in trucks between Felixstowe Ferry and The Dip to collect the eight foot planks, which saturated the shores.

Suffolk Coastal council also launched a clean-up operation to remove the driftwood that was not taken by residents, and Thames Coastguard warned small boat owners to look out for floating wood which could damage their craft.

But loss of the wood from the vessel – the ship has not been identified – was only one of several similar incidents in the North Sea last autumn, most of which happened in heavy seas or gales.

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The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has now carried out an investigation into the incidents, which it says "raise serious concerns about the safety" of ships carrying sawn timber deck cargoes.

"The common factors in these accidents indicate clearly that the present methods of stowing and securing these cargoes is insufficiently robust when heavy weather is encountered on passage," it said.

Many such vessels sail past Suffolk each year – from Baltic or north Russian ports en route for British or Irish ports or on the way to the Mediterranean.

The MAIB investigation centred on eight incidents and highlighted problems with cargo moving because of inadequate or loose lashings, lack of friction between steel lashing bands and steel hatchcovers and slippery plastic sheets.

It also expressed concern about crew members risking their lives working on timber deck stacks in bad weather.

The MAIB report urges shipowners to look at measures to improve the lashings and vessel structure to cut out hazards, and copies of the report are being sent to all timber transportation companies around Europe.

It also said further research is needed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on friction between cargo and hatch covers, and to look at the best way that the planks of wood should be stacked and tied together during journeys.

One problem in using protective plastic sheets over and between the loads was that these become slippery when wet and need to be applied with a high friction coating to stop them moving in heavy seas.

Paint on the steel hatchcovers also needed friction improved – ordinary paint does not provide a non-slip area when wet. It was suggested that mixing sand with paint would help.

WEBLINK: www.maib.dft.gov.uk

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