Friday, 29 January 2010

MoorMaster: Technology vs. Fear of Technology

My first posting for 2010 after a 2 month summer layoff.

I'll start by declaring that this is not a commercial plug or product placement. My company are setting up a trial berth for the MoorMaster vacuum mooring system. Here's a link to their website;

Sanko Supreme,Weipa

Moormaster was designed by a New Zealander, Peter Montgomery, to try and advance the safe mooring of ships from Ancient Greek times.


In short, the vessel is secured alongside the wharf with high surface area vacuum pads. One of the early units was fitted to a ship and secured to pads on the wharf.

Moormaster have since been bought by Cavotec, an infrastructure equipment manufacturer, and the system has been exported to Australia, Oman and the UK. The system has had the strongest adoption in ferry ports and container terminal where the vessel are returning regulalry to the same berth. Port Hedland Port Authority have announced that the system will be fitted to a new common-user iron ore berth under construction.

While I have no doubt that the system can be engineered to operate in a dusty bulk terminal environment, my concern is with the soft human interface. There is no doubt that the system offers compelling advantages - safety of crew and linesmen while mooring, holding power in bad weather and for container terminals improved container exchange rates due to the ships being firmly held in position under the gantry cranes. Port and Terminal operators will save in labour costs by reducing mooring gangs from the current 8-10 persons to one system operator.

The human factor is going to be convincing the Master of a tramping bulk carrier (Handy to Capesize) that "its all going to be OK" and that he doesn't have to put out any mooring lines. The ISM Code has placed a duty of care on the Master, Managers and Owners to operate ships safely. Every shipboard safety management system contains procedures and work instructions on mooring the vessel in port. Use of the MoorMaster units without a risk assessment and procedural change request to the SMS will potentially put the Master and ship at risk of a PSC defect or detention.

EII Dampier

Cargo interests don't have a great track record for accepting responsibility for their actions. Alternate hold loading of bulk carriers, 16,000 tonne per hour iron ore loading rates, black-listing Masters and ships for petty infractions at the berth are legacies of commercial expedience over safety and seaworthiness.

Establishing Moormaster as a technology which enhances safety and reduces port costs will require Terminal Operators to guarantee the system's performance to the Master and PSC Inspectors. Without this guarantee, Masters will (rightly) refer to their SMS, moor their vessels and Terminal Operators will be left wondering why they have millions of dollars of capital (excuse the pun) 'tied up' in idle MoorMaster units.

Comments, solutions, suggestions all gratefully received and considered as we roll out these units for trial at our bulk fuels terminal.

The Antipodean Mariner
29th January 2010