Tug Safety Presentation to IMO

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The British Tug Owners Association were fortunate to have the opportunity to present to the IMO’s 44th Standards of Training and Watchkeeping Conference in London on 30 April.

Marc Niederer, Chairman of the BTA, led with support from Don Cockrill, Chairman of the UK Maritime Pilots Association, David Brown and Adrian Mundin from the BTA. He put across several points which would make a difference to tug safety and contribute to safer ports.

Firstly, the increasing problem of the uncontrolled release of towing lines by ship’s crew once towing is complete, with the risk of injury to those on the deck of the tug below, the chance that a member of the ship’s crew could be caught and dragged over board and the possibility that lines will foul the tugs propulsion perhaps leading to a collision. The obviously solution is good communication, with the pilot advising the tug first; the master of the vessel then ordering his crew to release (in a controlled manner).

Secondly, the danger of excessively weighted heaving lines which supposedly make them easier for the ship’s crew to throw. Twist locks, heavy shackles and a plum bob were all shown to the audience, with the invitation to imagine what such a weight, falling on the head of a tug deck hand from 20m, could do. It could kill; it could certainly lead to prosecution of the ship’s master. The towage industry has developed an alternative: orange sand bags and some towage companies provide them free to the vessels.

Finally, safe speed. A video illustrating the hairy nature of a tug working ahead of the bows of a large car carrier at speed was shown. Looking at major incidents in harbour towage, speed has almost always been a factor. The incident between the Stena Britannica and the tug Fairplay 22 illustrated this. Most ports have some regulation, but for most tugs, 6 knots should be the maximum.

Marc then brought the audience’s attention a study released last week: ‘Report on Safe Tug Procedures’ by Dutch Captains Henk Hensen, daan merkelbach and F. van Wijnen. The report describes the lessons learned from the Fairplay 22 incident with some very concrete suggestions for safe tug operations.

He summarized by saying that the industry has made great improvements in safety; following the above guidelines will improve things further. A variety of questions were then fielded.

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