A container ship which did not meet the minimum access requirements for container stow working space was recently unable to discharge containers at an Australian port and was forced to leave Australia with containers onboard, with the vessel eventually returning to SE Asia to tranship the containers to other vessels which complied with the requirements.
Carriers carrying containers (or cargo generally for that matter) to or from Australian ports should be aware of the requirements of Marine Order, Part 32 – Cargo Handling Equipment. A copy of the Marine Order can be found at: http://www.amsa.gov.au/vessels/standards-regulations/marine-orders/
The Marine Order imposes strict requirements for the loading and unloading of vessels and, in particular, prescribes minimum access requirements for cargo working areas. For example, where containers are manually secured on a ship, a minimum distance of 550mm between adjacent ends of containers must be provided at all times. Where the container stow extends to the side of the ship, a platform of at least 550mm by 550mm clear of all lashing points and attachments must be provided extending to the side of the ship at a height convenient for a person to secure or release the lashings.
Until recently, vessels which did not meet the minimum requirements prescribed in the Marine Order were generally allowed to undertake cargo operations where the vessel could be safely worked under alternative arrangements agreed by the carrier, stevedores and AMSA, however, recent instances suggest an increasing reluctance on the part of stevedores and AMSA to allow cargo operations to be undertaken where the requirements are not met (particularly for vessels on subsequent voyages).
It is therefore recommended that vessels carrying containers provide a working space of at least 550mm clear of all obstructions between and alongside containers. Where it is not possible for a vessel to provide a walkway meeting the minimum working space, carriers should avoid using container bays which do not allow for the minimum space.
Carriers should also be aware that the Navigation Act prohibits vessel crew handling cargo at an Australian port so the crew will be prohibited from unlashing or lashing containers should stevedores refuse to do so because of the vessel’s failure to meet the minimum working space requirements.
This information is intended to provide a general summary only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice.