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Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Following a recent incident at Huangdao Oil Terminal, Qingdao, the causative factors leading to this event suggest that tankers should exercise a high degree of caution if required to call at this facility.

If you intend to call at the Huangdao oil terminal, we recommend you  read the full story of what happened to a modern VLCC in August 2000

In August 2000 a modern VLCC entered with the West of England docked at Berth 62 to discharge a cargo of crude oil. The berth itself is unprotected from the swell and is exposed to strong winds and currents. After consultation with the docking pilot, sixteen mooring lines were deployed; four headlines, two breastlines and two springs forward, with the same arrangement aft. In accordance with International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) recommendations and OCIMF’s mooring guidelines, the brakes were applied to all mooring winches. The ship’s crew tended the lines as necessary throughout the vessel’s stay.

On arrival the master asked the terminal operators for written advice regarding the weather limitations at the berth. No information was provided, and no attempt was made to furnish the ship with local weather forecasts while in port. Moreover, the terminal representative who completed and signed the ISGOTT “Ship/Shore Safety Checklist” neither spoke nor understood English and appeared to regard the process merely as a box-ticking exercise.

The terminal operators also failed to observe many other ISGOTT recommendations. The master was not given details of the terminal’s emergency response plan (including emergency stop and emergency disconnection procedures) in spite of repeated requests. Similarly, no safety or operational procedures were provided. Subsequent investigations indicate that the terminal also contravened China Maritime Bureau regulations in this respect.

It soon became evident that no one else could speak English, including the loading masters appointed by the terminal to supervise the discharge operation. Communication between the ship and the terminal was only possible via the ship’s agent, who was unable to remain in attendance the whole time. These concerns prompted the master to order a particularly careful deck and cargo watch, and to leave the main engine on “immediate notice”.

Three chicksan loading arms fitted with quick couplers/de-couplers were manoeuvred into position and connected to the ship’s manifold. It is believed that these were capable of being released by a master switch in the control room ashore or by using a separate remote control device. The remote control device was tested by terminal personnel prior to discharge, but it was reportedly defective. Shore staff are thought to have returned the device to the control room and it was not replaced.

A moderate offshore wind was blowing on the port beam and a strong current was running. Towards the end of the discharge the ship experienced a sudden and prolonged gust of unusual intensity. The resulting shock load created a small but noticeable momentum, parting a headline in the process. Although all mooring lines and winches were tightly secured, the energy created was sufficient to cause the brakes to slip once their design limits had been reached. Consequently the ship’s bow started to swing slowly away from the berth.

The vessel immediately contacted the terminal by radio, but there was no answer. As far as could be seen, all terminal personnel were absent apart from one member of staff occupying the control room ashore. By shouting and using hand signals the crew attracted his attention and attempted to convey the urgency of the situation by pointing to the chicksan arms, all three of which were still connected, and to the shore gangway. However, such frantic behaviour produced no reaction on the part of the controller, who made no tangible effort to trigger the quick couplers/de-couplers by using the master switch. Doubts have been expressed as to whether the master switch, if indeed fitted, was functioning correctly.

At this stage the vessel was stripping cargo internally with the manifold closed. All cargo operations were abruptly halted by the master, who also called the crew to mooring stations. The main engine was used to reduce the swing, and emergency tugs and a pilot were ordered via the port authority. However, several minutes later the terminal had still not responded, causing the chicksan arms to detach themselves by force. The shore gangway was also damaged. Prompt action by the crew prevented any oil from reaching the water.

Initially the terminal asked for USD 17 million security and has since lodged claims exceeding USD 10 million for repairs and restitution. This sum is being contested vigorously by owners with support from the Club. Two court hearings have been held at Qingdao Maritime Court and the case is attracting widespread attention.

Since this incident other entered tankers have discharged at Berth 62 and have reported similar operational shortcomings and weather anomalies. This includes a situation where a vessel parted lines in a heavy swell due to severe surging and rolling while alongside. The terminal managed to disconnect the hoses successfully in this instance.

Given the exposed nature of Berth 62 and the ostensible lack of safety and emergency controls, vessels are advised to be particularly vigilant if required to call at Huangdao Oil Terminal.