Published: December 1, 2015

The Club continues to receive a significant number of claims which could have been reduced or avoided if the bilges had been properly monitored.

A recent case involved wet damage to Australian peas and provides a good example of how such damage could have been avoided. The Member’s ship had loaded 44,000mt of grain in Australia and 8,515mt of dun peas in hold no. 1. When the cargo was discharged in India, a column of wet/mouldy cargo beneath the hold access compartment was observed. As the discharge of no. 1 hold progressed, the extent of cargo affected became apparent:

not only did the column of seawater damaged cargo extend from the top of the hold to the tank top but a 3m deep layer of wet damaged cargo existed across the whole tank top. The initial cause of the seawater entry was a holed eductor pipeline.

The forepeak eductor pipeline which passed through the no. 1 hold forward access compartment was corroded. The pipeline was also used for the anchor wash and mooring winch cooling system. Sea water flowing under pressure had leaked from the corroded pipe into hold no. 1. While waiting for a berth at the first discharge port, the ship had frequently dragged anchor and hence the anchor winches had been used frequently.

The winch cooling water and anchor washing system had also been used and part of this water had leaked into hold no. 1 through the corroded eductor pipeline. This leakage was not discovered immediately and was found only during the discharge from hold no. 1 at the second discharge port, when discoloured/damaged cargo lumps slid towards the centre of the cargo hold.

Following investigation, the quantity of water ingress into the cargo hold was found to be around 600 mt, a very significant amount, which could be explained by the continued use of the anchor winch and the washing of the anchors, combined with the size of the corroded hole.

The surveyors found that the sounding log for the voyage from the load port to the discharge port did not record any change in the no. 1 hold bilge soundings, despite an extensive ingress of water. Upon sounding the no. 1 hold bilges after the ship’s arrival at the second discharge port, it was observed that the soundings were nil. The water ingress alarm sensor located at the aft bulkhead of hold no. 1 also had not provided any alarm during the ingress. The ship’s previous cargo was cement clinker in bulk and it is probable that the bottom portions of the hold bilge sounding pipes and the water ingress alarm pipe may have been covered by the hardened cement clinker cargo, which is why the ingress had not been revealed.

Approximately 2,900mt of cargo was damaged. A large proportion of that damage could have been avoided if the bilges and associated sounding pipes had been properly maintained and regularly sounded and also if the high water alarms had been regularly tested.

In another example, a bulk carrier loaded bulk sinter feed in Canada for discharge in China. The charterparty voyage orders to the master included a requirement for regular reports regarding bilge pumping to be sent to charterers and so the chief officer arranged for the bilges to be sounded daily, weather permitting.   Significant quantities of moisture were found and therefore it was necessary to pump out the accumulated water in the bilges on a daily basis and this was recorded in the ‘water drainage log’.

On arrival at the discharge port, a discrepancy of about 2.5% was noted between the bill of lading cargo quantity and the calculated quantity of cargo on board on arrival.  The water drainage log summary prepared by the master and chief officer prior to the final discharge survey confirmed that this amount corresponded exactly to the amount of water pumped from the hold bilge wells during the voyage.  The receiver’s surveyors noted the discrepancy and the total quantity of water from the drainage log summary in their final survey report and the vessel departed.  It was not until some 10 months later that the Member was notified of a shortage claim by subrogated cargo insurers.

Once proceedings were commenced in China, close inspection of the ship’s bilge sounding records showed that the bilges were sounded at exactly the same time twice daily and each sounding resulted in the same quantity being observed in each well and pumped twice daily from the wells in all nine holds.  It was also notable from the document produced that at no time during the voyage was the twice daily schedule of sounding and pumping interrupted by events.  A statement was taken from the chief officer as to the veracity of the bilge pumping records and the daily activities on board in this regard which was submitted to the court.

After all the evidence had been submitted to the court, the claim was settled at a considerable discount prior to judgement being issued as a result of the parties being put under significant pressure from the Judge hearing the case.  But settlement did not occur  before the Judge indicated quite forcefully in court before claimant and defendant lawyers  that the uniform nature of the bilge well soundings and pumping figures undermined his confidence in their veracity.  The Judge did acknowledge, in private discussions with the Member’s lawyers that although it was apparent some water had drained from the cargo during the voyage  the failure to prove on the balance of probabilities what that quantity was did not incline him to their favour and settlement was in their best interests.

General best practice can be summed up as follows:

  • It is essential that documented procedures for regular inspection, sounding and pumping of bilges and testing of bilge alarms are followed and the information observed is accurately recorded in an appropriate document.  Any omissions to a regular inspection schedule should be  shown in the record with reasons why.
  • When sounding cargo hold bilges it is important that exact soundings are properly taken and recorded and an accurate calculation made of the actual quantity of any water being pumped out.
  • Cargo hold bilges should ideally be checked and sounded on a twice daily basis, weather permitting. Any deviations from this should be recorded with reasons why.
  • Bilge systems and alarms should be tested regularly.  In  the event  of any faults with the bilge alarms being noted, regular manual soundings or similar means of checking should be initiated.
  • Cargo residue and other debris can impede the proper functioning of the bilges, and all bilges should be inspected and cleaned if necessary, prior to loading any cargo.
  • When ballasting, it is important that the tanks being ballasted are sounded regularly after completion of the ballasting operation, and it is equally important that the adjacent tanks and cargo hold bilges in any adjacent cargo spaces are also sounded to check for the possibility of water ingress.


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