Mitigation steps needed against crane knockdowns

Crane collapse Equipment replacement costs and berths out of action are just the immediate results of a crane knock-down

Dave MacIntyre investigates the impact and procedures when a crane is knocked down and considers common causes, plus the consequences that may follow

Port cranes crumpling after being hit by ships are spectacular examples of berthing procedures that have clearly gone wrong – and there are regular examples of such incidents occurring on a global basis.

For example, a ferry crashing into a crane in Barcelona, a crane collapsing after being nudged in Vancouver, a crane being knocked over at Jebel Ali Port and three cranes being hit by a ship at Semarang, Indonesia, after the ship’s engine failed, have all occurred recently.

The subsequent impact of such an incident can include equipment replacement costs, berths out of action and prolonged insurance and legal ramifications. So, what can be done to prevent them from occurring? Vector Port and Transport Solutions is a UK based consultancy and its principal, master mariner Andreas Nigulis, says that for any berthing procedure it is critical all parties are fully co-ordinated, including harbourmaster and/or port authority, pilots, tugboats and mooring staff.

The position of ship-to-shore cranes should be defined, including ‘no-go’ positions such as the ends of the intended berth where the flare or stern of ships may impact cranes. “In consequence, cranes can be moved out of the intended berth or placed at the centre of it,” says Capt. Nigulis.

His experience confirms that a lack of communication between the stakeholders and insufficient training is often a cause of accidents, along with engine failure.

“It is the onus of each individual party to make sure that procedures are established to mitigate risks. For example, it is in the terminal operator’s interest that equipment is ‘protected’ against collision and that management is aware of the measurements to be applied.

"This comprises the positioning of the equipment, bollards to be assigned to the vessel and the communication with pilots and harbourmaster. According to the port’s organisation – private or public – we may have a marine department or, in the latter case the harbourmaster, to establish berthing and unberthing rules which may include the position of the cranes,” he explains.


John Gibbons, senior consultant with Specialist Crane Services, says cranes knockdowns are very expensive and the role of tugs is crucial. “Tugs are an issue because there is no insistence for them to tie-on. This should not be discretionary. If a tug is called in to ‘push’ they should still tie-on in case circumstances change, but often this does not happen. Often, one tug is called to save money when two are required even when it is ruled to be a twotug-per-vessel port.”

Mr. Gibbons says there are fundamental rules regarding parking cranes when berthing and unberthing: “If possible, park the cranes completely out of the way. If a vessel is being introduced or removed from between two other vessels, cranes should be parked in the shadow of the vessels on the neighbouring berths.

"If it is not possible to park the cranes completely out of the way, then they should be parked in the middle where the hull is parallel away from the flared bow or overhanging stern. The boom should be in the parked position in the latches, the trolley should be parked, the crane should be powered down and there should be no personnel on the crane.”

Nevertheless, accidents can still occur when vessels have been impacted by the wind, especially for lightly-loaded and high-sided car carriers. Mr. Gibbons says rule changes instigated for good reasons have unexpected consequences, such as those discharging ballast in port. To save their owners cost, vessels discharge in deep water and come into port light, and can then be suddenly caught by a gust of wind.

“Claims, of course, are the eventual result of incidents and everyone on both sides are encouraged to say nothing. There is no common-good consideration regarding what is learned or could be learned,” he adds.

The legal ramifications can be complicated and lengthy. Matthew Wilmshurst, senior associate of maritime law specialists HFW (Holman Fenwick Willan), says that although the main legal issue relates to who is going to pay, the immediate concern is making any impacted crane safe, minimising disruption to operations and keeping the terminal working, plus, of course, the repair or replacement of any damaged infrastructure.

While liability is clear it is still no guarantee that quick settlements will be achieved, as Wilmshurst confirms. “If a party responsible to a terminal operator has someone else it can make a recourse claim against (e.g. a vessel owner against a charterer), then it might not want to admit liability until it has an admission down the chain.”

“Equally, claims are large, some parties will refuse to admit liability to give themselves additional arguments to deploy in any eventual settlement,“ he adds, before qualifying that from a legal perspective the “biggest battleground tends to be quantum rather than liability. The terminal operators will be attacked by vessel interests claiming that they have not taken steps to mitigate their losses or (with the benefit of hindsight) should have made other decisions".

For this reason, he advises that “terminals need to document every recovery step and thought process very well to help with recoveries".


From the insurance viewpoint, Laurence Jones, risk assessment director for the TT Club, agrees many incidents have their root cause in human interaction.

“Damage to the ship itself, the berth and quay cranes often occurs, as well as potential for pollution and, of greater concern, bodily injuries to ship crew and port personnel. The advent of larger tonnage and the consequent ‘cascading’ affect to smaller ports mean that the risk is real in most locations,” he states, although he also feels that there are some parts of the ship’s arrival and departure that generate a greater cause for concern.

“The two key areas of heightened risk are ship manoeuvring in the port and the process of mooring. Manoeuvring exposes the ship to collisions, while mooring can result in injuries or fatalities to crew or mooring line personnel. All the factors contributing to such incidents can be classified as either ship issues or port/terminal issues.”

Mr Jones says good communication between the master and the pilot is essential for safe berthing and the entire bridge management team bear responsibility to ensure that all actions are consistent with the passage plan and the safety of the ship.

He confirms: “There has been evidence of incidents occurring because the master was new to the port and/or the pilot not previously experiencing the size or type of ship call at the port.”

Another factor is engine and/or propulsion equipment failure because it is a common cause of collisions, meaning that maintenance systems and procedures should be established and followed, including strict adherence to the ship’s Safety Management System.

In more detail, all ropes, wires and links used for mooring should have a certificate and these need to be clearly labelled and kept in an easily-accessible file ready for inspection. Plus, all winches should be included in a ship’s Planned Maintenance System.

It is important to have sufficiently trained personnel to be able to moor the ship safely. Certain ports are installing vacuum and magnetic mooring systems that can improve safety by removing personnel from mooring lines.

Mr Jones says in many ports bollards may have been in place and potentially unchecked for decades: “There is currently no international standard to ensure that bollards are sufficient in number, quality and capacity, as well as suitably-located for the tonnage likely to call at each berth. Ships need to have appropriate dialogues with the ports.”

While most port authorities have procedures to only allow berthing and unberthing in certain wind conditions, recent experience suggests that unfamiliar and erratic weather conditions are becoming more prevalent.

“All ports should implement emergency procedures to send ships to sea in advance of severe weather, do not wait for an incident before developing an emergency plan. The risks of ships’ mooring lines breaking during severe weather conditions are substantial and only partially mitigated by the availability of additional mooring lines or tugs on standby, albeit these should form part of the emergency response plan,” warns Mr Jones.


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