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Reasons for failing hold inspections - Bulk carrier guide

Most ships fail hold inspections as a consequence of cargo residues, loose paint or rust scale being found in the upper, less accessible parts of the holds, or as a result of previous cargo debris falling from the hatch covers during the ballast voyage.



In order to avoid such failures, officers are advised to take every opportunity to clean the upper parts of holds and frames with suitable access equipment such as cherry-pickers. Alternatively, if it is safe to do so grain, fertilisers and similar cargoes can be swept off the underdeck beams before the start of discharge.


Bulk cargo hold heavily pitted with rust scale

Fig: These holds are unlikely to pass a grain survey, as they are heavily pitted with rust scale and embedded with coal staining

This is of particular importance when trading to countries such as Australia, where the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service operates a zero tolerance policy, under which detection of a single particle of certain previous cargoes or other contaminants will fail a ship, and the consequences of that failure may be significant.

The possible sanction for a loaded cargo is that it will be quarantined, and discharge in Australia will not be permitted. Examples of contaminants that may incur such sanctions are the presence of a single grain of substances such as cereal, peas, beans, stock feed, rice, animal-based contaminants such as faeces and feathers, soil and sand.

There are cargoes that stain; for example, petroleum coke (petcoke) requires the holds to be cleaned very well after carriage. Some cargoes require the holds to be ‘grain clean’ or ‘hospital clean’ (for example, silver sand which is used for making glass), and some cargoes require all traces of the previous cargo to be removed.

If a grain ship fails the survey and the load berth is not required for another ship, then the ship may be allowed to stay alongside. This is more likely in small ports that have restricted wharf grain storage, because only enough cargo for the current ship is held at the wharf. Ports with larger storage will hold cargo for several ships, and if the next ship in line is available, then the failed ship has to leave the berth. Some ports have general purpose or layby berths that can be used for cleaning holds.

Shore labour does not usually have to be used to clean a grain ship that is alongside; there are exceptions, for example, in Melbourne. If the ship is a handysize, handymax or panamax, cherry-pickers will be required. There are local ship cleaning companies in most ports.


Hold cleaning equipment

Hold cleaning is time-consuming. To minimise time spent on the task, it is essential that the ship is suitably equipped. Equipment should include good-quality brushes and brooms, suitable scrapers, ‘manhelps’, receptacles for removal of residues from the holds, heavy-duty hoses and nozzles, enhanced delivery systems such as the Stromme Combi-Jet or Maxi-Gun, spray foam equipment, paint, protective and cleaning chemicals, and where appropriate, high-level access equipment such as a scaffold tower or cherry-pickers.

This requires a minimum pressure flow from the general service pumps and the air compressor, with the dimensions of the deck pipes affecting the process. Pressure drops should be calculated and simple and cost-effective improvements such as increasing the diameter of water and compressed air couplings should be evaluated. High-pressure cleaners of 350 to 500 bar should be part of the standard equipment onboard any bulk carrier. These are useful if not essential to clean the holds properly.

Hot-water cleaners although not commonly used are reported to make the wash-down operation more effective and may obviate the need to use chemicals.


Inspection failure - preventing claim

A benchmark for considering a ship grain clean is given by the US Department of Agriculture: “To be considered fit the holds must be clean, dry, free of odour and infestation, and otherwise suitable to receive and store grain insofar as the suitability may affect the quality, quantity or condition of the grain.”
  1. owners’ chartering departments should have a good understanding about what can practically be achieved in hold cleaning and having the ship ready to load
  2. owners’ operations departments should be consulted by their chartering departments as to the condition of the ship and the time required to get the holds cleaned
  3. owners’ operations departments should have a good understanding of what is required in terms of personnel and equipment to carry out an efficient hold cleaning operation
  4. owners’ management should train personnel and institute guidelines for chartering departments about hold cleaning procedures
  5. masters must take a robust stand when asked to carry out hold cleaning operations that are patently unrealistic. Masters should not be forced into taking undue risks over hold cleaning in trying to comply with unrealistic laycan dates
  6. masters should ensure that good records, with photographs, are maintained for hold cleaning operations, particularly for sensitive cargoes




Related information

Cargo hold cleaning recommended chemicals

Various Cargo Hold Cleaning Kits & chemical washing technics

Chief officers final inspection prior cargo hold survey

Hold preparation checklist -Cleanliness/preparation, additional measures

Cargo holds readinesss, maintenance requirement, preventing stevedore damages & safety aspects

Watertight integrity for cargo holds & hatch cover strength requirements for bulk carriers

Maintenance procedure for mechanical steel hatch covers



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Operation of sea going bulk carriers involved numerous hazards . Careful planning and exercising due caution for all critical shipboard matters are important . This site is a quick reference to international shipping community with guidance and information on the loading and discharging of modern bulk carriers so as to remain within the limitations as specified by the classification society.
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