A ship’s loading operation is a carefully planned activity where the cargoes are transferred from the shore terminal to the vessel’s cargo tanks.
It sounds simple and it actually does. But unbeknown to most, it involves many moving parts from preparation to the disconnection of cargo arms.
A safe loading operation happens with careful planning, information sharing, and proper communication between the ship’s crew and the shore-side personnel.
I had an experience while loading multiple liquid parcels in a certain port where two of our cargoes got mixed! It was due to a miscommunication.
We could have prevented it from happening if we emphasised proper arrangements before the loading operation started.
Before Loading Operation
Any operation on board requires careful planning to achieve a smooth, efficient, and safe outcome. It is the job of the Captain and his crew to prepare all the necessary elements.
Due to the nature of the cargo, tanker ships prepare more equipment for during loading.
Some of them are the following.
- Preparing the loading plan or stowage plan.
- Ensure that the ship’s crew prepares the ship and her cargo tanks for loading.
- Inert the cargo tanks to the terminal and/ or company standards. This is below 8% LEL for terminal requirements and 5% for the company.
- Close all the scupper plugs. This is a simple task that everyone should practice before the loading operation commences.
- Upon arrival, conduct a ship/shore exchange of information.
- Fill out the necessary checklists. These are the ship / shore safety checklists and the ship’s internal cargo operation checklists.
- Verify the primary and secondary means of communication including the call sign of the ship and the terminal.
- Clarify and agree upon the right words to use when stopping, starting, increasing, and decreasing rate flow.
- During the discussions with the agents and loading master, verify that the type of cargo and its quantity are what’s agreed upon in the email. They should settle any discrepancies in information before going further.
- Check relevant valves on deck and in the pump room as per the loading plan.
- Take a safety tour on deck and test certain devices for functionality such as the following:
- P/V Valves
- Mast riser
- High-level alarms
- Emergency stops
- Emergency showers
- Portable gas detectors
- Pump room ventilation
- Ensure that the safety and firefighting equipment is in position such as:
- Portable eye wash
- Fire hoses
- Fire extinguishers
- Foam monitors
- Safety and warning signs
- Oil spill equipment
- The OOW may also need to inspect the cargo loading arms if it’s properly connected, tested and earthed.
During Loading Operation
When all the valves are lined up and the loading operation starts, the OOW inside the CCR and the watchmen on deck must do their parts to ensure that the operation stays safe.
Officer on Watch
- During initial loading, the rate of flow must be slow as per the agreed rate. This is for line displacement and to avoid shocks in the lines.
- Conduct periodic radio checks between the CCR and the shore terminal.
- When the OOW switches tanks, he should open first the valves for the next tank before closing the current one. This is to avoid pressure shocks on the line.
- Visually verify that the PV Valves are working in relation to their settings.
- Follow the loading plan.
- Record the hourly rate and other figures.
- The OOW must call the Chief Mate and the Master for any diversion to the loading plan or changes in the ship/ shore safety checklist.
- The most critical part of any loading operation is the topping-off process. The OOW must request the shore terminal to lower the rate. At the same time, he must inform the deck crew that they are entering this stage.
- In case rainwater starts accumulating on deck, the ship’s crew can discharge them using the scuppers only if it’s clean. Otherwise, they should transfer it to the slop tanks with the OOW’s permission.
Deck watch keeper
- Take manifold and foot samples.
- The deck crew must perform safety rounds and check for leakages on deck, especially in the manifold area.
- They must, as well, tender the mooring lines and maintain the ship’s position on the manifold.
- Maintain proper gangway watch and report any abnormalities to the OOW.
- Ensure that visitors switch off their handheld electronic devices.
- Escort them to the accommodation and make sure to pass on the guided walkways.
- Check the deck and ship’s side for any traces of oil.
- Keep all the doors and portholes in the accommodation closed during the whole loading operation.
- Be alert for any sound and smell abnormalities. You can immediately tell that the flow rate is changing by its sounds. Abnormal or inconsistent flow rates are audible.
- Check the discharged ballast if it’s free from oil.
- Keep manual gauging during the topping-off of cargo tanks.
After Loading Operation
The loading of cargo tanks finishes when the shore stops pumping and the ship closes her manifolds. However, it’s not completely finished as there are still many things to do.
Visitors like the loading master and surveyors will come to do sampling and calculations.
In many instances, the surveyor usually arrives and takes samples during the topping-off periods of the loading operation.
After loading, here are the things you should do.
- Close the manifold valves, crossover valves, and drop valves after draining them properly.
- Assists the surveyors for final sampling.
- Together with the OOW and surveyors, assist in taking the final ullage of the cargo tanks.
- The OOW may also need to visually check the drafts.
- On the manifold, the crew should avoid the jettymen from disconnecting the loading arm without any advice from the CCR. There was an incident where the jettymen insisted the arms be disconnected only to find out that the cargo loaded on board was short and they needed to top-off more.
- Inside the CCR, the Chief Officer and the loading master will make the final calculations. Only then that they disconnect the arms after agreeing on the paper works.
- Once the loading arm or cargo hose is disconnected, you can secure the safety and firefighting equipment.
- The pumpman must also transfer the remaining cargo in the drip tray to the slop tanks.
- Stop the pump room ventilation.
- Secure the reducers, flanges, and cranes.
For the whole loading operation, the OOW must record every relevant fact and figure. These data are important and they are included in the ship’s statement of facts.
Finally, when everything on deck is secured and the visitors are away, it’s time to wait for the pilot to come and start sailing.
May the winds be in your favor.