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Safety Concerns of RoRo Vehicle Transportation

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A safe way to ship vehicles is via roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ships or vessel. As the name suggests, vehicles, like cars, tractors and trucks, simply roll on and off ships via ramps (WWO, 2019), which can be stacked on the cargo ships or permanently attached to the port of the harbor (Biologistik, 2018). Products that are not self-propelled are placed on handling equipment with wheels and stay on them throughout the whole shipping duration, such as cargo in the containers of container trucks (WWO, 2019).

As vehicles simply drive onto the ships, there is no need to use cranes to load the cargo onto the ship, like is done with lift-on/lift-off (LoLo) ships. Vehicles that are transported via LoLo ships are stored in containers and treated as goods (Biologistik, 2018). This means that these vehicles have a higher chance for additional inspection, such as customs, than vehicles shipped via RoRo. This is also the reason why the price for container shipping may be higher than that of RoRo shipping for cars (SCL, n.d.).

LoLo shipped vehicles need to have their tanks emptied and their batteries unplugged before they are hoisted onto cargo ships. RoRo eliminates these intermediate steps, which is advantageous logistic-wise (Biologistik, 2018): the loading and unloading of vehicles and other goods is cheaper and faster this way. Transported vehicles can also be used right away, as their tanks don’t need to be filled up nor do their batteries need to be plugged in again. Trucks carrying containers that are shipped via RoRo can right away drive to their final destination after disembarking at the port. If LoLo transportation was used, the containers would be isolated from the trucks and loaded onto the ship. After shipping is complete, these containers would then be unloaded with cranes and placed onto a truck again for further transport. Therefore, the shipping of containers via LoLo takes longer time than shipping the trucks that carry these containers themselves via RoRo.

Another advantage of RoRo over LoLo is that it is safer as there is less chance of having machinery-related accidents (Biologistik, 2018). According to a study in 1983, the loss rate for RoRos was significantly lower than the average loss rate of all ships in the world. Even if RoRo shipping is considered safe, accidents may still happen. A famous example of a RoRo accident is the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster which happened in March 1987 (IMO, 1997).

The Herald of Free Enterprise was a RoRo/passenger ferry that operated between Dover, England and Zeebrugge, Belgium (Bell, 2017). The ship capsized shortly after leaving the port in Zeebrugge causing a total death count of 194 people. The bow door had been left open (IMO, 1997), causing water to pour into the car deck. This caused the ship to become unstable which resulted in the ship rolling around its center of gravity. The vehicles that were stowed on the ship also rolled around because of the instability of the ship (Bell, 2017). The ship capsized and sank (IMO, 1997), however, it was not entirely submerged as a sandbank was underneath the ship, preventing the ship from sinking even further (Bell, 2017).

The assistant boatswain Mark Stanley was blamed for not closing the bow doors, as he had fallen asleep in his cabin, according to an official inquiry. It was also stated in the inquiry that Mr. Stanley had acted courageously as he was helping people during the disaster after having woken up. The same inquiry also put the blame on first officer Leslie Sabel and captain David Lewry for not checking the doors before leaving the port (Bell, 2017).

From this accident, it is clear that the doors of a RoRo ship are a safety concern. Not only can people forget to close them, it is also a weak spot, as it can easily be damaged or twisted, especially when the doors are also used as ramps for vehicles to drive on and off the RoRo ship. Bow doors and cargo access doors are also close to the waterline. This means that water can quickly rush into the ship during accidents like the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. In fact, several RoRo accidents involve water getting on the vehicle deck through cargo doors, whether this was because of an accident or because of a mistake (IMO, 1997).

Cargo is another safety concern. Containers carried on trucks that are transported with RoRo are sealed making it impossible for crewmates to examine the cargo and check if they are properly secured. Unsecured cargo can cause the trucks to move around. This may also happen when vehicles are not properly secured with lashing, affecting the stability of the ship. This, along with the fact the RoRos have a low center of gravity, may cause a ship to capsize. As a matter of fact, 43% of RoRo losses is caused by the shifting of cargo and operational faults, according to the det Norske Veritas study, a study submitted by Norway to the International Maritime Organization regarding the safety of RoRo ships. It is also difficult to arrange and position vehicles and lashings in the best possible location: coming up with the optimum lashing positions is impossible as different types of vehicles in different quantities can be transported each time on a RoRo ship (IMO, 1997).

With the danger of unstable cargo, comes the danger of fire. As vehicles that are shipped via RoRo have fuel in their tanks, there is the possibility of them going up in flames when they crash into each other. Of course, there may be other causes for fires breaking out on a ship, like technical problems, flammable cargo and prohibited smoking. Fire can damage the ship and cargo and also harm the people onboard the ship.

RoRos also lack internal bulkheads, as they are obstacles for the upper deck of RoRos: they prevent vehicles from driving on and off the ship (IMO, 1997). Bulkheads are partition walls that divide the ship into smaller compartments that are watertight. They help reduce seawater flooding into the ship in case there is damage to the ship. This helps to slow down the water from flowing in (Wärtsilä, n.d.). The lack of internal bulkheads means that water can flow rapidly into a RoRo ship if there is a leak (IMO, 1997).

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is a specialized agency of the United Nations, is responsible for safety and security measures. They set standards and oversee regulations of international shipping. The IMO cannot, however, enforce these policies. Their policies can only be enforced when they become a national law due to the government of the country accepting the IMO policy (Kenton, 2019). After the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, the United Kingdom requested the IMO to adopt a number of emergency measures. A couple of new things that were implemented after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster was the installation of emergency lighting, windows that could be broken with a hammer and CCTV to monitor critical areas of the ferry, such as the bow door of a ship (IMO, 1997).

To ensure the safety of the cargo, it is important to check whether the cargo and vehicles on the RoRo are properly secured (IMO, 1997). Road vehicles need to be secured to the deck with sufficient lashings. The amount of lashing points a vehicle should have should be in accordance with the requirements for safe sea transportation. A vessel’s master may refuse to accept a road vehicle provided that the vehicle does not comply with the requirements (Finnlines, 2014). Each ship should also carry a Cargo Securing Manual, which contains details for securing arrangements and locations of fixed and moveable cargo.

The manual contains a guide, in which the essentials of safe packing are covered, for those responsible for packing and securing vehicles and cargo in containers (IMO, 1997).

According to both the 1960 and 1974 version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) (Kenton, 2019), ships that carry more than 12 passengers, like the Herald of Free Enterprise, are defined as passenger ships. It is compulsory for such ships to have the decks whereon vehicles are parked above the waterline with the area beneath this deck to be subdivided into bulkheads. Parameters like the permissible length of the bulkhead compartments can be calculated according to the deterministic method the SOLAS Convention used. The degree of subdivision required for a ship is determined by the required Subdivision Index R formula (IMO, 1997). This index indicates the minimum required probability of survival after a ship has been damaged (Wärtsilä, n.d.). According to the formula, the degree of safety needed increases with the number of passengers and the length of the ship (IMO, 1997).

Another safety concern the IMO considered was fire. The first fire protection requirements for international shipping were developed in 1914 (IMO, n.d.). Since then the safety regulations have changed numerous times. In November 1975, IMO’s governing body, the Assembly (Kenton, 2019), adopted resolution A.327(IX) which concerns improved fire safety requirements of cargo ships. Regulation 18 of the resolution deals with vehicles on RoRo ships. Some things listed in the regulation includes fire detection and alarm requirements, improved fire extinguishing arrangements and ventilation (IMO, 1997). The 1992 regulations made it compulsory to both new and existing passenger ships to be installed with the latest fire safety measures, such as automatic sprinklers and smoke detection systems. In July 2002, a new set of regulations regarding fire safety were made. The regulations have adjusted over the years as new lessons are learned with regard to fire safety based on previous accidents. All these adjustments also incorporated technological advances in fire safety. In general, fire safety regulations are designed with three goals in mind (IMO, n.d.):

1. Ensuring that fires are prevented

2. In case a fire does occur, that these are detected rapidly

3. The extinction of the fire

Not only do fire safety regulations change, almost all regulations have changed over time. As vehicle shipping via RoRo have safety concerns, including its doors, the cargo, fire and the lack of bulkheads to name a few, regulations are implemented to ensure the safety of the ship, the cargo and those onboard the ship. The continuous adjustment of these regulations is to efficiently optimize and continue to improve the safety as new lessons are learned from previous ship disasters and as technology continues to advance.

Submitted by Maifarah Lyana Anthonijsz on 09/03/2020

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