Transporting steel products such as coils, profile sections, slabs, wire rods by sea is not without risk. These cargoes are sensitive to moisture, corrosion and mechanical damage and any contact with seawater can cause serious damage.
In the case of seawater, contact with chlorides can cause corrision and pitting corrosion which is sometimes difficult to detect. Pitting corrosion affects the thickness of the steel, making it impossible to use a product for its initial purpose. We regularly see that consignees try to prove the presence of chlorides on the steel by means of a silver nitrate test in order to substantiate a claim.
With this publication, we want to explain how claims can be avoided and how the NNPC represents the interests of its members in such cases.
The contract of affreightment
When concluding the contract of affreightment it is important to make clear agreements about who is responsible for the loading and unloading, for whose risk the stevedores work and who supplies the lashing and dunnage and which party lashes down (shore crew appointed by the shipping company or charterers or does the crew lash down themselves). We specifically recommend taking the following into account in relation to this:
- Where possible, leave the responsibility for this with the charterer and, in any case, do not accept responsibility for work they do not actually perform themselves.
- Inform the master of the conditions of the voyage and send clear voyage instructions. This can avoid a situation in which documents are signed that place additional responsibilities on the vessel and involve the crew in matters for which the charterer is responsible. For example, that a statement is signed on behalf of the shipping company in which the master confirms that the cargo has been adequately secured by the stevedores while the cargo has been secured at the charterer’s risk.
- Agree that before loading, a cargo list and possibly a preliminary stowage plan must be presented with details of the cargo. This way, the crew can check whether the dimensions and weight of the cargo correspond to the cargo details as agreed in the contract of affreightment. This also makes it possible to calculate the vessel’s stability in advance and to make adjustments to the provisional stowage accordingly, which is also very important if there are several loading and unloading ports.
If the cargo interests want to have a surveyor present or to have the hatches tested for watertightness, we recommend that this is clearly agreed in the contract of affreightment.
Preparing the hold and hatch covers
It goes without saying that seawater contamination is a major cause of damage to steel cargoes. What is important to take into account is that the residues/remnants of seawater are often already present in the hold before loading and/or may precipitate on the cargo during the voyage as a result of condensation. Indeed, seawater is often used as washing water or can enter the holds through vents or the bilge wells.
Measures to avoid the presence of seawater before loading:
- Before loading, thoroughly clean the holds with fresh water and clear them of cargo residues. Then dry the holds or leave them to dry and ensure that all the free water is out of the hold. The hold must be completely dry before loading.
- Before loading, check the non-return valves for proper operation and cargo residues. If necessary, dismantle and clean and then dry. In the engine room, the valves to the ‘bilge’ system should be closed and the alarms tested. The crew should record this in the log and possibly in a separate statement as a so-called ‘pre-loading’ checklist.
- If possible, perform a test on the water tightness of the hatches (an ultrasonic test or ‘hose test’) and record the results in the ship’s log. Check that the gasket of the hatches is in good condition, that all previous loads have been removed from the chutes, there is no damage to chutes and covers and the drain chutes are free of rust and/or cargo residues and seal properly.
- Steel has a high specific gravity (SG), 8,000 kg per cubic metre. This cargo at the bottom of the hold creates (additional) stresses and forces on the cargo, lashings and the actual vessel itself and has an impact on the stability of the vessel such as short roll times and large accelerations. During bad weather, the vessel will work strenuously and that is why the hatches should be in top condition.
What can you do before and during loading?
- When opening the hatch covers, check that no saltwater falls/drops down from the hatches. Prior to opening the hatches, it is recommended to dry them as much as possible.
- If a surveyor or inspector wishes to come on board on behalf of cargo interests, their details (passport or ID card) and the purpose of their visit should be recorded in the log. It should be clear where and when the surveyor will examine the cargo and the master should ask questions about his observations. These observations should be studied carefully and be compared with the crew’s own observations during loading.
- The stowage plan should take into account the type of steel as well as its dimensions and weight. So-called ‘hot-rolled’ steel coils are more weather-resistant and are often already slightly atmospherically corroded or wet before loading. Insofar as possible, these coils should not be loaded in the same hold as packaged so-called ‘cold-rolled’ steel coils, which are highly sensitive to corrision.
- During loading, keep hatches closed as much as possible and close them as soon as possible in case of rain or snowfall. Record these periods in the log.
- Any observations about the condition of the cargo should be made on the bill of lading after loading, or attached as an appendix. Crews can use the templates available on the NNPC website (under ‘news and publications’ – ‘downloads’) for this as reference material.
- In addition to general remarks about the packaging, dents, tears, dirt, bird droppings, moisture, corrosion and possible damage to the cargo, specific remarks should also be included. If these are not included on the bill of lading, the shipping company runs the risk of being held liable for any damage. Examples of remarks that can be used to record the condition of the steel and place them on the bill of lading can be found on the NNPC website (under ‘news and publications – ‘downloads’).
From the perspective of possible claims, it is also important to record the situation at the loading port. For example:
- Where the cargo came from and how it is brought in. Open trucks, contaminated trucks, open rail cars;
- How the cargo is being loaded. Using a quay crane, mobile crane, number of units per hoist and what materials are used to hoist the cargo on board;
- Where is the loading area? Is it close to the sea, are the waves crashing over a pier, are there any polluting industries next to the loading area; If any work is being carried out in the vicinity of the loading port that could potentially have an impact, this should be noted.
- What was the temperature, day and night, any humidity.
- What was the condition of the cargo after it had rained? In any event, make sure the hatch covers are dry after a rain shower so that no moisture enters the hold when it is opened.
- Photograph anything that could be relevant to the condition of the cargo.
- If the cargo is not visible because it is packed or covered, this should also be recorded.
Transport by sea
At sea, it is important not to allow any seawater to enter the hold and to also avoid condensation.
What can be done to prevent this?
When the weather is bad, there is a greater risk that seawater can enter the holds through the hatches. A vessel’s hull has a certain flexibility while the hatches and hatch coaming form a rigid unit. In heavy weather, the ship may ‘pull’ on the hatches, so to speak, which will result in there being less or no pressure locally between the hatch rubbers and the hatch coaming. This allows seawater to enter which, if all goes well, will be discharged via the drains. However, if too much water enters, combined with heavy rolling and pounding of the vessel, the drains may overflow and seawater may enter the hold. This should be avoided at all times. Depending on the position, local conditions and the duration of the bad weather, course and speed adjustments can be considered to prevent extreme movement of the vessel. In the event of course and speed adjustments, it is important to ensure that these are properly recorded in the log.
In connection with this, it is important to keep a close eye on the condition of the cargo and lashings in the holds during the voyage, insofar as this can be done safely, and to identify any ingress of seawater and condensation in time. It is also important to manually sound the bilge every day and not to rely solely on the proper functioning of the alarm.
If, despite the above, problems arise due to seawater in the holds, it is important that the shipowner is fully informed without delay. Damage can possibly be prevented and/or mitigated by appointing a surveyor who is present on behalf of the shipowner and/or P&I club before and during unloading.
What can you do before and during unloading?
- On arrival in port and when opening the holds, the hatches should be free of salt water. We recommend rinsing the hatches with fresh water first and drying them off as much as possible. Every positive silver nitrate test increases the likelihood of the ship being held responsible for damage.
- If anything unusual is observed in the holds on arrival, the shipowner should be informed of this without delay. In consultation with the P&I club and correspondent, an inspection can then take place and it can be decided what measures can be taken to mitigate the damage. We recommend that the provision of information to cargo interests take place through the P&I club and that no access be granted to counter experts without the surveyor being present on behalf of the shipowner.
- During unloading, leave hatch covers closed as much as possible to mitigate the risks of precipitation or calamities.
- Experts or other persons coming on board on behalf of a cargo interest will need to report and identify themselves first. They should board or be provided with information with permission only.
- No documents referring to possible cargo damage should be signed at the end of the unloading. If a master is nevertheless forced to sign such documents, a caveat should always be stated, for example: ‘Signed without prejudice, for receipt only’.
It is always, but especially in the case of steel, of utmost importance to ensure that any observations are recorded, notes are made on bills of lading and that the utmost care is taken to make vessel and holds watertight and free of condensation. In the event of any doubts, the shipping company and/or the P&I club should be contacted for advice or assistance.