Ship-based crane safety

Find out about the work Maritime NZ is doing with industry and stakeholders to address safety issues around lifting appliances on foreign vessels in NZ.

The maritime industry is a major contributor to, and enabler of, the national economy. As an island nation distant from its markets, New Zealand is almost totally reliant on efficient international shipping to carry our trade.

The economic contribution the wider maritime sector makes to New Zealand is significant. With growth in cargo and logging through exports, ports in New Zealand accounted for tens of billions of dollars in trade in 2018.

Each year, around 945 foreign vessels make over 2750 visits to New Zealand shores and around 5,000-6,000 calls into New Zealand ports. Ships transport 99% of New Zealand’s trade by volume but not all ports have shore-based lifting equipment and must rely on ship-based cranes.

Maritime NZ is notified of numerous safety incidents or accidents involving cargo lifting appliances onboard foreign flagged ships each year. The safety of foreign flagged ships’ lifting equipment (including ship-based cranes) is governed under different domestic and international rules and regulatory systems than NZ flagged ships.

Maritime NZ is working with many other organisations across the international maritime sector to address the issue of ship-based crane safety, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping. Its remit includes maritime safety.

Since 2007 Maritime NZ has lobbied at the IMO for changes to improve safety of lifting equipment by including lifting gear within the safety management system on SOLAS ships (ships that typically engage in international voyages). After completing a focused inspection campaign, in 2006, on ships’ cranes which highlighted significant safety deficiencies, Maritime NZ proposed to the IMO that on-board ship crane safety should be given much greater attention. At a recent IMO Ship Systems and Equipment Sub Committee meeting (4-8 March 2019) agreement, in principle, was achieved on the text of a SOLAS mandatory regulation making new and existing lifting appliances, such as onboard cargo cranes, safer. It is envisaged this amendment to SOLAS will enter into force on 1 Jan 2024. This would then need to be incorporated into the law of each country for it to apply to that country’s ships.

The cause of ship-based crane incidents does not appear to be linked to any specific cargo type, handling procedure or lifting appliance condition, nor can failures be demonstrably linked to any specific ship operator, manufacturer or flag state. Maritime NZ is aware that not all incidents or accidents have been reported and that under-reporting in the sector is still an issue.

Maritime NZ investigated a number of incidents related to load failures from cranes on foreign-flagged ships. These related to a range of failures or faults and were attributed to a mix of poor maintenance and/or improper use. Lifting appliance events made up approximately 12% of all recorded incidents and accidents linked to foreign flagged vessels in New Zealand waters in 2018. Lifting appliances can pose a significant risk to port workers. Thankfully none of the reported events resulted in serious harm.

In June 2018, Maritime NZ convened a forum with industry and stakeholders to address and workshop the safety issues around lifting appliances on foreign vessels in NZ. There were 54 external participants including representation from stevedores, port companies, classification societies, harbourmasters, agents, shipping companies, charterers and unions.

Following the Forum, Maritime NZ set up six working groups. These have been supported by the Port Industry Association, WorkSafe and other parties.

The working groups are attended by a range of industry experts and facilitated by Maritime NZ, with the intent of collectively achieving the goals set by the groups. By achieving these goals, Maritime NZ and industry aims to reduce the incidents involving ships’ lifting equipment, raise the standard of safe operation and lower the risk to workers.

A recent achievement of one of the groups was that Maritime NZ issues Interim Technical Notice ITN-11-18: Standard for the inspection of wire rope used on ship’s lifting appliances in New Zealand.

The groups are working toward the development of an industry guide to improve safety around port lifting operations.

Maritime NZ developed guidance for its own responding staff to enable a consistent approach to compliance and investigation activities related to lifting equipment failure. Our general approach has been to prevent further harm and to ensure the safe, on-going operation of the ship.

The Port State Control (PSC) system exists to ensure foreign ships coming to New Zealand ports comply with requirements set down in international conventions and law. PSC is a key element in protecting New Zealand waters by ensuring foreign flagged vessels meet standards in safety, security, environmental protection and crew welfare.

NZ PSC and Australian (AMSA) counterparts recently finished a port state control focused inspection campaign (FIC) on foreign flagged vessels visiting New Zealand and Australian ports. The FIC assessed how and whether New Zealand persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) meet their HSWA duties by engaging with foreign ships’ crew in planning and conducting safe cargo handling operations at New Zealand Ports. Foreign ships are not subject to the NZ Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) but the HSWA does apply to NZ-based stevedoring companies working on foreign ships at New Zealand ports.

Maritime NZ Project Manager Port & Safety Compliance Richard Barton said that “There are significant risks involved with loading and unloading of ships, particularly while using the ships’ own lifting gear. Also there are shared duties across NZ PCBUs and therefore an industry-wide approach to improving safety outcomes is best.”

A fundamental principle of HSWA is that workers and other persons should be given protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from workplace hazards and risks. Section 30 of HSWA requires duty holders to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. A lifting appliance is often essential to the operation of the ship – so in most cases it’s not practicable to eliminate risk.

ISO General Manager Health and Safety Chris Bell said, “ISO has been engaging independent ship survey inspections that focus on lifting equipment including cranes and general vessel conditions for many years. Inspections are completed prior to any work taking place and are undertaken at the first port where ISO is working the vessel. These inspections contribute to ISO maintaining a safe work environment for its NZ workers as well as other parties.”

Maritime NZ continues to address crane safety as a high priority. Our actions include advice to charterers, stevedores, and others in the maritime sector based on technical information and feedback from sector working groups. We are also working with stevedores regarding notifiable incidents under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Richard Barton said, “We are seeing some good things happening in the industry – with an increase in the sector reporting to us, and they want improvement in this space as much as Maritime NZ does.”