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Cargo Loading And Unloading

The operation on board a ship which requires the highest level of accuracy and precision is the cargo handling operation especially during cargo loading and unloading. The above mentioned operations demand consistent efforts from both the port authorities as well as the ship’s crew members. The ship’s owners and the port authorities expect the cargo loading and unloading to take place efficiently. In spite of being a stressful operation, the concerned dignitaries are expected to be time efficient and sharp in taking decisions in case of an unwanted situation. So, we shall discuss more on cargo loading and unloading.

What is cargo loading and unloading?

Cargo refers to the goods or the merchandise which are carried by the vessel from one place to the other. Various types of cargos transported by ships are:

  • Container cargo (Electronics, Toys, Medicines and food stuff –in reefers)
  • Liquid bulk ( LNG, LPG, Product Oils, Crude Oil, Edible oils, Chemicals )
  • Dry bulk (Grains, Ores, Coal, Salt, Sugar, Corn etc.)
  • Livestock and Animals
  • Automobiles

Cargo loading is the operation on board a ship where cargo is being loaded into the ship or “to load the cargo”. The cargoes which have to be transported from one port to another are loaded accordingly.

Cargo Loading
Fig. Shows containers being loaded on a Container Vessel.
Shows Dry bulk being loaded on a Bulk Carrier
Fig. Shows Dry bulk being loaded on a Bulk Carrier.

Cargo Unloading refers to the operation of delivering the goods to the respective clients once the concerned port arrives. It refers to the operation of unloading of goods from ships and handling over the consignment to the port authorities and to the respective clients.

 automobiles being unloaded from a RO-RO ship
Fig. Shows automobiles being unloaded from a RO-RO ship.
cargo unloading from a bulk carrier
Fig. Shows cargo unloading from a bulk carrier

What is the procedure of preparing of loading and unloading?

As the ship is about to reach the port, several preparations are made to make the cargo loading / unloading safe and free from troubleshooting. The procedures for the preparation of cargo loading are:

  • Proper planning of the cargo loading or unloading and stowing is done.
  • In case of improper stowing or securing of the cargo, imbalance can occur which may lead to bigger disaster.
  • All the crew members should be well-versed with the loading / unloading and securing equipments on board a ship.
  • All the bilges are emptied and all the bilge alarms are being checked for their proper working.
  • Proper ballast plan should be prepared according to the ship’s condition, regardless it is empty or carrying cargo.
  • In case of container ships, ample amount of lashing and twist locks must be provided for securing the containers.
  • The deck crew should make sure that the cargo are being stowed and secured with precision to avoid any type of damage during the voyage. At the time of unloading they should be carefully unlashed to prevent damaging of the cargo.
  • In case of any faulty securing equipment like hatch covers, lashings, twist locks etc., it should be immediately replaced.
  • Make sure that no hot work is being done in the vicinity of the ship especially when the cargo to be loaded / unloaded is explosive in nature.
  • When the cargo loading or unloading is done in dark, make sure that the ship’s deck have adequate lighting.   
  • All the exhaust fans in the cargo holds should be continuously working to prevent the accumulation of hazardous gases.
  • Make sure the fire fighting equipments are handy and in perfect working condition.
  • Last but not the least, personal safety holds the top most priority. So, wear proper PPE according to the surrounding you are going to work in.

Safety during loading and unloading:

Several safety measures are taken into account at the time of cargo loading and unloading as it is a very dangerous activity and is very prone to life safety. The following are the basic safety measures taken to eliminate the life risk:

  • Wear proper PPE consisting of helmet, boiler suit, appropriate gloves, goggles, safety shoes.
  • Being updated about the type of cargo being handled is a must.
  • In case of tankers, a inert environment needs to be maintained around the cargo holds as a precautionary measure in the event of a leak
  • Using the appropriate lifting machines otherwise it may spill the cargo and lack of cargo handling leads to undesired situations.
  • When the cargo loading / unloading is being done, do not stand under the hoisted cargo.
  • When entering enclosed spaces, always keep air monitoring equipment with you to prevent inhalation of any harmful substance and suffocation.
  • Proper training should be given as to the usage of safety and fire fighting equipments prior to every cargo loading / unloading operation.
  • Securing the cargo at the time of loading and unlashing should be done carefully.
  • In case of any emergency, do not panic and inform the rest of the crew members and plan out the necessary actions to be taken.

Losses due to poor cargo loading procedures:

Although a lot of protocols are being followed while handling cargo, losses do occur due to the improper cargo loading procedures. Following are few types of losses:

  • Loss of cargo
  • Loss of revenue
  • Degradation of the reputation of the company, crew members and port authorities
  • More time required to refill the cargo lost due to lack of efficiency
  • Loss because of leakage or lack of stowage depicts the lack of administration and level of maintenance
  • It may lead to loss of life if proper safety measures are not taken into consideration
  • If a devastating accident took place because of poor cargo loading procedure it may cause to degrade the mental stability and trauma.

Relative Marine Accidents:

Several accidents have taken place due to improper cargo handling. Following are some of the results of carelessness:

1. On June 22, 2020, an improperly loaded vessel lost 21 cargo containers in Hawaii. All the containers fell into the ocean which resulted to a heavy loss in revenue. Although there were no injuries, however, a loss of about 1.6 billion US dollars was incurred. The reason behind this incident was found to be lack of pre-planning of the cargo loading procedures.

improperly loaded containers from the accident site
Fig. Shows the improperly loaded containers from the accident site.

2. Recently, some seafarers found a container loaded with expensive electronics stuff. The container might have fallen into the ocean because of poor loading techniques where the lashing might have become loose. As a result, the container toppled into the ocean causing a lot of financial damage to the ship owners.

a seafarer pulling the container carrying expensive electronic stuff.
Fig. Shows a seafarer pulling the container carrying expensive electronic stuff.

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