Safety Observation : Rumble Stow

The term “rumble stow” has entered the common lexicon at many container terminals around the world.  While a panel of cargo specialists had never heard the term, it is being used daily by terminal planners and increasingly expected and tolerated by vessel crew.  In an ideal world, the complex system of cargo stowage on container ships is very precise, with the competing goals of maximizing the cargo load, segregating IMDG cargo and maintaining the vessel in a safe condition with regards to stability and stresses all carefully balanced (pun intended).  The reality (or the “work as done” versus the “work as imagined”) is that, aside from IMDG containers which require precise locations for proper and safe segregation and reefers that must be near a power outlet, there is much variation in where a container winds up on a particular bay.

Now, 99% of the time, there are no issues.  Unfortunately, there’s the 1% – the IMDG or reefer that is improperly stowed, or the stack weight limit or lashing loads that are violated.  Best practice (and it should be the only practice) is to obtain the final plan well before sailing and completion of cargo so that any issues might be rectified.  Also unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  This places the vessel in a potentially hazardous situation both from a direct threat to safety of the crew and vessel, but also from regulatory hazards.

So, rumble stowing.  It can be argued from the terminal side that expecting a particular container to be in a particular stowage location will add tremendously to their workload.  Unfortunately, this shifts the workload to the vessel.  When reefer containers are rumble stowed, the actual container must be searched for in the reefer manifest, the set point and ventilation settings compared with the container in question and the correct position of the container manually noted by vessel crew.  This places an additional workload on vessel crew that are already stretched thin and working with competing goals of checking reefer containers, checking lashings, maintaining a security watch, adjusting mooring lines and attempting to remain STCW/MLC rest hour compliant (i.e. the vessel cannot have all crew out on deck for a 20 hour port stay).  All this with larger vessels, faster cranes and the quest for efficiency in operations.

So, what can be done?  With regard to IMDG containers, there is no leeway.  They must be stowed where planned.  There have been minimal issues in this regard.  Reefer containers, though, are another story.  They add tremendously to the workload of the vessel crew – particularly when loading and discharging – but, they also add tremendously to the shipping companies’ bottom lines.  In order to best serve both the interests of the shipping companies and the needs of the vessels’ crew, perhaps “rumble stowing” should be addressed on a formal level.

Additional Reading and Links

The Standard Club – Master’s Guide to Container Securing

Maritime Safety Innovation Lab : Container Cargo

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