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Cargo hold cleaning standards in bulk carrier -Surveyors requirement prior Grain loading

Preparation of a cargo hold prior grain loading is not just a question of sweeping, cleaning or washing down the hold. There are a number of matters to consider, and failing to adhere to good practice can result in failure to pass cargo hold inspection.

In the dry bulk trades, there are essentially five grades of hold cleanliness:

  1. hospital clean, or ‘ stringent’ cleanliness
  2. grain clean, or high cleanliness
  3. normal clean
  4. shovel clean
  5. load on top

Hospital clean is the most stringent, requiring the holds to have 100% intact paint coatings on all surfaces, including the tank top, all ladder rungs and undersides of hatches.

The standard of hospital clean is a requirement for certain cargoes, for example kaolin/china clay, mineral sands including zircon, barytes, rutile sand, ilmenite, fluorspar, chrome ore, soda ash, rice in bulk, and high grades of wood pulp. Generally, these high standards of cleanliness will only be met by vessels trading exclusively with such cargoes. It will rarely be required in the tramp trades.



Grain clean is the most common requirement. A ship will be required to be grain clean for the majority of bulk and break bulk cargoes, such as all grains, soya meal and soya products, alumina, sulphur, bulk cement, bauxite, concentrates, and bulk fertilisers. Some ports and shippers may allow a different standard of cleanliness.

Normal clean means that the holds are swept clean, with no residues of the previous cargo, and washed down (or not, depending on charterer’s requirements), that is, cleaned sufficiently for taking cargoes similar to or compatible with the previous shipment. Shovel clean means that all previous cargo that can be removed with a ‘Bobcat’ or a rough sweep and clean with shovels by the stevedores or crew. The master should clarify what standard is expected.

Load on top means exactly what it says – the cargo is loaded on top of existing cargo residues. Usually, this means ‘grab cleaned’. This standard will commonly be required where a ship is trading continuously with the same commodity and grade of that commodity. This will typically occur when a ship is employed under a Contract of Affreightment to carry, for example, a single grade of coal over a period. With such a trade, there is no commercial need for holds to be cleaned between successive cargoes, and each cargo is simply loaded on top of any remaining residues from the previous cargo. With load on top, guidance may be necessary for the master on any cleaning requirements, including the use of bulldozers and cleaning gangs.


What is Grain clean ?

The most common cleanliness requirement for bulk carriers is that of grain clean. It means “clean, swept, washed down by fresh water and free from insects, odour, residue of previous cargo (incl. coal petcoke, clinker.)/loose rust scale/paint flakes etc. dried up and ready to receive charterers’ intended cargo subject to shippers’/relevant surveyors’ inspection. If the ship fails hold inspection by shipper/relevant surveyor, the ship to be placed off hire until accepted in all holds, and any extra costs/ expenses/time included stevedores’ stand-by and/or cancelling charges, therefrom to be for owners’ account”.

The usual instructions a master of a tramping conventional bulk carrier will receive, particularly if his ship is unfixed for next employment, is Clean to grain clean on completion of discharge. The guideline here is aimed at the majority of bulk carriers engaged in the carriage of ‘usual’ bulk cargoes in conventional ships, which are cleaned to a grain clean standard. As noted above, there are certain cargoes, such as kaolin, which require the higher standard of cleanliness or hospital clean.


What is ‘loose scale’?

It is important to differentiate such scale from oxidation rust (i.e. light atmospheric rusting). Loose scale will break away when struck with a fist or when light pressure is applied with a knife blade or scraper under the edge of the scale. Oxidation rust will typically form on bare metal surfaces but will not flake off when struck or when light pressure from a knife is applied. Generally, the presence of hard-adhering scale within a hold is acceptable in a grain clean hold. The scale should not fall during the voyage or during normal cargo operations.

Countries apply different standards to what constitutes an acceptable amount of loose scale or loose paint. While in some countries, no such material is permitted, the United States Department of Agriculture permits a single area of loose paint or loose scale of 2.32 sq m, or several patches that in total do not exceed 9.26 sq m, before a hold is deemed to be unfit. In practice, the hold should be free of loose scale as each surveyor’s interpretation of the required ‘standard’ may vary.

The industry accepted definition of grain clean is provided by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB).

“Compartments are to be completely clean, dry, odour-free, and gas-free. All loose scale is to be removed.” The definition is clear:
Points to consider






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Chief officers final inspection prior cargo hold survey

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