Sleepless nights on crane collisions

Equipment losses still threaten port operations. Credit: Keith Evans Equipment losses still threaten port operations. Credit: Keith Evans

A nightmare scenario came true for port operators and insurers alike four years ago, in the form of a major accident in the UK involving both merchandised and land-based cranes.

Despite strengthened precautions on quaysides, executives might well still sleep uneasily, for even the best regulated facilities are at risk of such casualties.

Felixstowe was the port that suffered the 2008 casualty, and it involved the Zhen Hua 23, a Hong Kong-registered vessel that carries cranes as cargo, cranes that are welded into the ship. She was calling at Landguard Terminal to discharge one unit and planned to sail on to drop off cranes at other ports.

Windstorm Emma was the villain of the piece, forcing the ship to break her mooring line. The wind was strong enough to blow the ship down the quay with the cranes acting like sails, and when the runaway ship hit the quay cranes, they went over like dominoes. Liability insurer TT Club was on risk for cranes and business interruption. Emma raged on into mainland Europe and took down two cranes at other ports.

Robert Kempkens, the club’s claims director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, says that there continue to be casualties in which ships take down a port crane. “That is always a substantial claim.” He adds that business interruption claims take a long time to resolve, especially when it is a question of making an insurance recovery from a ship.

The TT Club co-operates with ship managers, port operators, cargo handlers and equipment manufacturers on recommendations of ways to avoid crane mishaps. Loss prevention experts at the club have long urged the installation of radar or laser electronic sensors, which signal a crane to stop before its boom hits a ship.

Enhanced crane design features can minimise exposure even in high winds. The club says in one of its briefing documents: “Non-technical people would be surprised at the 'sail effect' inherent in the ‘Meccano-like’ structures.”

Mr Kempkens says that awareness of other factors such as ship traffic flow and the nature of berth approach can help curb the number of incidents.

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