January 22, 2005

Hatch cover problems cause big losses

Shipping industry losses caused by defective or poorly maintained hatch covers show no signs of diminishing, according to a leading P&I club.

In the latest issue of its loss prevention newsletter Signals, the North of England P&I club says it continues to get three to four claims a year between US$500,000 and US$1,000,000 for cargoes with water damage resulting from hatch-cover defects.

"The irony is that the cost of preventing these losses can usually be measured in a few thousand dollars or less," says Tony Baker, head of the club's risk-management department. "Often all that is necessary is the replacement of some defective rubber seals, some minor repairs to steelwork or sometimes just cleaning down a coaming."

Baker says most problems are experienced on older and smaller ships. "However, larger and newer ships are not exempt from hatch-cover problems and often give rise to the largest individual claims. No-one is immune."

North of England is reminding its members of the importance of regularly testing hatch covers for weathertightness, using either a traditional hose test or ultrasonic leak detection. Though the ultrasonic test requires specialist equipment and trained personnel, it is more accurate and avoids the risk of damaging any cargo in the holds.

The top five hatch cover defects identified by North of England are:

  • seal rubber permanent set beyond the point of replacement;
  • seal rubber worn, torn, displaced or missing;
  • temporary seal fixes;
  • wastage of steel support pads or coaming side plates; and
  • blocked drain holes in hatch covers and coaming corners.

According to Baker: "All hatch-cover seals should be replaced when the permanent set reaches half the design compression or if any part of the seal is damaged. The use of proprietary sealing tape or high-expansion foam may be acceptable as an additional precaution on a well-maintained hatch cover, but is not acceptable as an alternative to proper permanent repairs."

The club's loss-prevention guide entitled: Hatch Cover Maintenance and Operation, written by David Byrne of Transmarine, is currently being revised and a second edition will be published this Spring.

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