Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday The 13th Storms Show Us The Vulnerability Of Shipping Freight By Barge

Shippers Must Include Inclement Weather in their Calculations
Shipping News Feature

US –New Jersey – North Carolina – Virginia - Hawaii - India – UK – Storms swept across the world today and devastated much of the Eastern Seaboard as Hurricane Ida thrashed in her death throes  taking other unfortunate lives with her. Many were blaming global warming for the continued turbulence and the world’s weather has served to demonstrate a fundamental weakness of one of our traditional forms of transport – the cargo barge.

In the UK, the Pool of London once bore a fleet of lighters which strung right across the River Thames, so thick it was said a man could cross the river simply by walking across them. Nowadays a Thames lighter is a rare sight, modern cargo handling methods and the advent of containers having largely curtailed their usefulness. Across the world however it is a different story, barges are slow but cost effective, and as bulk carriers or container feeders they are used in circumstances far removed from the sheltered inland waters of the rivers and canals.

In the US today alone there are reports of incidents far and wide, the container barge La Prinsesa broke her towline and careered onward for around a hundred miles before grounding on the beach at Sandbridge, Virginia. At almost 600 feet and loaded with nearly 200 containers bound for New Jersey from San Juan, that seems dangerous enough, but consider that thirty of her boxes held a mix of hazardous chemicals and think of the possible consequences.

In South Jersey a barge being used to repair a local bridge broke her mooring and, washed under the bridge became stuck fast, where she has remained for two days causing the Townsends Inlet Bridge to be closed indefinitely. The same storm has caused the deaths of at least three North Carolina fishermen, making a total of nine dead this year alone from storms in the area.

As far away as Hawaii barge traffic had to be suspended in and out of Kahului Harbour, Maui when the severity of the storm caused all container traffic to be stopped, all barges had to be left on their moorings after attempts to leave and one turned away as entry to the harbour simply proved impossible and she remains moored outside waiting for a break in the weather and, presumably, praying it doesn’t worsen.

In Goa, India the storms caused a barge being loaded offshore from another vessel to be wrecked. She is believed to have taken on 800 tonnes of iron ore and was caught in a cyclone, she has ended up severely damaged beached off Harawada the crew of five having been rescued by local fishermen.

Barges can be a godsend to an industry pressed to economise at every opportunity. The use of marine vessels however is always governed by one immutable factor, the sea, and we must always ensure safety of crew and cargo take precedence over economy.

The handful of lightermen in the Thames can look on knowing they suffer no such great risks but with hurricane force gales predicted this weekend any feeder vessels out in the Channel or Irish Sea will know they should sail with very great care, or not at all.