Occupational Safety In Modern Day Shipping


The daily operation of oil tankers involves many hazards. There are many items that should be complied with to ensure a safe working atmosphere. Observance of precautions by crew is most important and should be adhered to without fail. The International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) makes recommendations for the safe carriage and handling of petroleum cargoes, which is seen as a fundamental part of overall Tanker Safety.

Special attention should be tendered during certain special operations, such as Gas freeing or Gas Purging operations, where the presence of inflammable gas can be suspected. For example, the carriage and usage of hand gas lighters are prohibited onboard oil tankers. Safety matches are available to use in designated Smoking Areas.

Working system and preparation

The Master is responsible for the prevention of marine pollution. The Chief Officer is responsible and shall comply with all instructions as laid out for cargo oil transfer operations and ballast operations. He needs to supervise all such activities carried out by the Junior Deck Officers and Deck Crew.

Planning for Cargo Oil Operations

Prior to the commencement of any cargo oil operations, the Chief Officer shall prepare a detailed plan and the same has to be approved by Master. The Cargo oil operations plan shall be prepared in writing, and posted conspicuously in the Cargo Control Room. It shall be made available to all officers and crew directly involved in the cargo oil transfer operations. The plan shall include at least the following operations:

Loading, Discharging and Transfer of cargo oil, Crude Oil Washing, Tank cleaning, Purging and / or Gas-freeing, Ballasting and De-ballasting, Decanting of the slop tank, and Delivery of Slops, Sludge and Cargo Residues to shore facility.

Pre-safety meeting: The Chief Officer shall conduct the “Pre cargo operation safety meeting” with all concerned. He reads out the plan before crew –  the duty officers involved need to ensure good understanding by all such personnel. Fixed and portable communication devices used during cargo oil transfer operations shall be tested prior to commencement of these operations:

  • Loading, Unloading and transfer of oil
  • Crude oil Washing
  • Tank Cleaning and Gas Freeing
  • Ballasting and De-ballasting
  • Drainage of the slop tank and
  • Delivery of Slop / Sludge
  • Cargo Oil Transfer Check Lists
  • The Chief Officer, after confirmation, would sign on the related checklist. The Master shall then sign on the completed checklists –
  • Tanker Loading Checklist
  • Tanker Discharging Checklist
  • Crude Oil Washing Checklist
  • Crude Oil Washing Record
  • Ship-Shore Cargo Information Exchange at Loading Ports
  • Ship / Shore Safety Checklist
  • Ship to Ship Transfer Checklist
  • Tank Cleaning, Purging and Gas Free Checklist

Check Operational Conditions and Training of Crew

The Master and Chief Engineer shall ensure that the concerned crew members are well acquainted with the mechanism and its operation. They shall also ensure that the equipment and machinery is inspected and maintained in its operational readiness before use. The Chief Officer is responsible for the training of all crew directly involved in oil cargo transfer operations. He shall train all such personnel to be familiar with the proper operation of all equipment and machinery related to oil cargo transfer operations.

The Chief Officer is also responsible for assuring that the below equipment is inspected and checked for operational condition prior to the commencement of any Cargo Oil Transfer operation.

  • Valves.
  • Pumps.
  • Inert gas system.
  • Level gauges.
  • High level alarm unit.
  • Hydraulic unit.

Precautions when storing Spontaneously Combustible Materials

Materials which may cause spontaneous combustion (saw dust, oily rags, especially oil of vegetable origin, etc) must be stored in a well-ventilated area to prevent the accumulation of flammable gases. They are liable to ignite without the external application of heat, as a result of gradual heating within the material produced by oxidation.

This effect is further enhanced where material is stored in warm areas, e.g. proximity of hot pipes, etc. Waste rags, saw dust, or any similar absorbent material must not be stowed in the same compartment as oils, paints, etc. They should not be left lying on decks or equipment and should be stored or disposed effectively.

Certain chemicals, such as those used for boiler treatment are also oxidising agents and, although carried in diluted form, are capable of spontaneous combustion if permitted to evaporate. The containers used for storage shall be kept covered and should not be stored together with flammable materials.

At sea, where sparks/burning soot are observed being emitted from the funnel, measures to avoid such sparks falling on deck such as course alteration, wherever possible, should be considered. Any special operations such as cargo tank cleaning, purging and gas freeing operations should be ceased and all tank opening closed.

Ship Safety – A Mandate

Ship safety covers safety on board, including the safety of crew members. Shipping authorities and firms should hold the safety of cargo on top priority before a vessel departs for a voyage.  The recent developments in the maritime sector must be closely monitored to implement latest safety provisions. The safety level at sea corresponding to that ashore, should essentially match the IMO guidelines and standard operating procedures.

(References: www.shipbusiness.com, www.imo.org, Danish Maritime Authority)

Sea News Feature, January 31