Mooring line accidents in the maritime industry certainly don’t happen every day. But when they do, they often result in serious injury or loss of life. Therefore, merchant mariners, and even dock workers, must take extra precaution when working around mooring lines.
Accidents happen due to numerous factors. Many times, vessel crews overuse mooring lines throughout the course of many years. When shipping companies continuously put heavy loads on older mooring lines, they can part or snap back.
Sometimes, accidents with mooring lines occur during winching, the process of moving a ship along a dock. Mariners and seamen use winching techniques frequently with bulk carriers that need to move to different loading areas in the same port.
Regardless of how accidents happen, mariners often forget the ever-present potential for a dangerous snapback.
Mooring line accidents this year
There have been several tragic mooring line accidents so far in 2018. This past June, at the Port of Longview in Washington state, a mooring line parted during winching. The accident killed two people, including the chief mate on the ship and a dock worker at the port.
This past spring, a worker in Alabama was injured at Guntersville Dam, when his legs got wrapped up in a mooring line. Luckily, nobody was killed in this incident, although the worker involved did suffer serious injuries.
It’s more than likely that many other mooring line accidents have occurred outside the United States. Many of these accidents have likely gone unreported by the media and uninvestigated by maritime authorities.
What causes mooring lines to break?
Above, we hinted at the problem of overuse over time. If a ship has used a mooring line heavily over the course of several years, its crew has to consider that the line can only safely hold a fraction of its former capacity.
Aside from wear and tear over time, many other factors contribute to mooring line failure. Bulk ships that deal with raw materials like coal have to consider the problem of abrasion. Sediment from raw materials, and even from the seabed, can erode a mooring line, causing it to fail prematurely.
Mooring lines also break due to changes in environmental conditions. For example, large storms like hurricanes cause tide levels to rise, making it more difficult for mooring lines to hold ships to the dock. Even if a storm doesn’t cause a mooring line to break, it can increase the stress that is placed on lines. When mooring lines do break during tropical storms and hurricanes, the resulting equipment damage is often catastrophic, even if the accident doesn’t cause injury.
Avoiding mooring line accidents
In reality, there are two basic ways in which seafarers and the maritime industry can avoid mooring line accidents. One way is for seafarers to practice proper safety technique and not stand in the snapback zone. As many merchant mariners know, this is the area on the deck where seafarers are in the most danger of serious injury if a line were to break.
But avoiding the snapback zone isn’t always a fool-proof way of avoiding serious injury or death in the event of a mooring line incident. In recent years, there has been a push in the maritime industry to treat the entire mooring deck as a snapback zone. Despite these extra precautions, it isn’t always evident where to stand in certain situations, like during winching.
Luckily, there are new technologies in the maritime industry designed to prevent even the possibility of a catastrophic snapback. These technologies provide extraordinary benefits to shipping companies and ports because they increase safety and limit the threat of costly equipment damage.
One of the most innovative new technologies is rope fuses. They have just entered the market in the past few years and are still being tested. But companies that manufacture these fuses are doing a great job of highlighting their benefits. Rope fuses are designed to connect mooring lines to the bollard on a dock. As tension is placed on lines, the fuse is designed to stretch instead of give way, diminishing the tension and preventing the line from snapping back like a rubber band.
If technology continues to improve, mooring line accidents in the maritime industry can be sharply reduced. This can make the working environment safer for all employees, from dock workers to merchant seamen.