If there is an emergency report template in the vessel’s Safety Management System (SMS), then this should be used. If the SMS is not readily available, the Master should report the grounding to the Owners as soon as possible and provide the following information:
Time of grounding
Heading on the ground
Vessel speed at grounding
Draft fore and aft before grounding
Draft fore and aft on the ground (by high tide, otherwise with indication of tide)
Soundings made around the vessel (by high tide, otherwise with indication of tide)
Currents, including the direction of current in relation to the vessel
Type of seabed upon which the vessel is resting
Current weather conditions and 48-hour weather forecast
Did the grounding occur during high or low tide or between the two
Tide table for the next couple of days
Does the vessel have a list?
Is the vessel tight, and what inspections have been performed to check this?
Cargo type, weight and stowage arrangements, prior to grounding
Distribution of bunker oil, ballast and freshwater, prior to grounding
Has vessel weight been redistributed after the grounding through trimming or other reasons? If so, how much and how?
The Master’s opinion on risk-free use of engine, propellers and rudder
The Master’s opinion regarding refloating the vessel on its own power
The Master’s opinion on the severity of the situation and risks caused by the vessel’s position
Indication of communication channels
Any visible pollution
The provision of correct information by the Master is extremely important. This helps the Owners to assess the situation and provide the best advice. Please note that in the event of grounding, the Owners can only give the Master advice, not instructions, as the Master is responsible for the vessel and cargo and must act according to the situation at hand.
Immediate Actions After Grounding
Several factors must be considered in a grounding situation, and when attempting to refloat the vessel. Grounding conditions differ considerably, and it is impossible to provide a set of universal instructions. It is therefore imperative that the Owners contact their hull insurers, as they can provide external resources, such as tugs and salvage masters to refloat the vessel in the safest manner, as well as negotiate salvage contracts. If the Master has successfully refloated the vessel, he shall notify the Owners, providing all the relevant information pertaining to this action.
Irrespective of what the hull insurance or the Owners can deliver, the Master should pay particular attention to:
1. Sounding of cargo holds and tanks
All cargo holds and tanks should be sounded to assess possible cracks or leakage. The soundings shall be repeated and documented at least every other hour, for as long as the vessel is grounded. When the vessel is freed from the seabed, documented soundings should be taken immediately and at regular intervals.
2. Sounding of water depth
Water depth soundings should be taken from all sides of the vessel to establish the direction in which the vessel is to be brought afloat. Tidal movements must be established, and the trim read in order to establish how hard aground the vessel is, and to determine the stability. A sketch of the trim should be made and any information on the type of seabed must be supplied. If possible, the vessel should be refloated in the same direction as it ran aground.
3. Refloating at high tide
If the vessel ran aground during low tide, it shall be determined whether it can be refloated during high tide, circumstances permitting. If it is not possible to free the vessel during next high tide, proper precautions must be taken to prevent the vessel from additional grounding by the high tide, e.g. by filling ballast tanks, or deploying the anchor.
4. Trimming or emptying of double bottom tanks, etc.
When trying to refloat the vessel, it is advantageous to refer to the trim sketch when trimming, heeling or emptying the double bottom tanks. Extreme hull stress must be avoided, as it may impact negatively on the hull stability. Please note that when navigating in high-risk areas – rivers, canals, etc. – forward ballast tanks can be filled with large quantities of water, to be discharged in the event of grounding. To minimize the risk of further, heightened grounding, the use of warping anchors is recommended during refloating operations. The rigging of anchors shall be coordinated with any assisting tug boats.
5. Filling of tank
Empty tanks or holds can be filled to keep the vessel stable and to prevent additional grounding or scraping against the seabed during bad weather or heavy swell. The Master should be aware of the risk of oil pollution during such operations. If the vessel is stuck in a muddy seabed, tugs may sometimes use their propellers to ’dig out’ the vessel. Once ballast discharge is complete, endeavours should be made to free the vessel by engine thrust ahead and/or astern.
6. Using the engine
Often, attempts are made to bring a grounded vessel afloat by aggressive use of the engine. This is acceptable procedure when the vessel is grounded in a dangerous and exposed position. However, if the grounding has occurred in a less exposed position without any immediate danger, careful consideration should be given to whether it is advisable to strain the vessel’s engine and means of propulsion. If the Master chooses to use the engine to refloat the vessel, the conditions around the propeller and rudder should be checked in order to avoid unnecessary damage to these parts. The use of engines immediately after a grounding is a frequent occurrence. Such an operation is strongly discouraged. All of the precautions mentioned in this guide must be taken before the engine or engines are engaged in a refloating attempt. The technical managers should always be consulted before the engine or engines are engaged to refloat.
7. Lightering – removal of cargo
The Master must obtain a signed and written contract, drafted by local agents with the assistance of the Owners, prior to any lightering activities. This prevents the barge owners from making subsequent claims for salvage money or charging unreasonably high fees. Please note that lightering must not commence until all measures to prevent the vessel from the risk of additional grounding have been taken.
8. Tug assistance
In a non-emergency situation, the Master should avoid arranging for tug assistance under a “Lloyd’s Open Form”. Commercial agreements in coordination with the Owners and their insurance company is always preferred if there is no immediate danger to crew or vessel.
9. Trimming or jettison of cargo
In some circumstances, trimming or restowing of the cargo is necessary. In more extreme cases, especially in general average situations, lightering the vessel’s load by jettison/cargo may be considered.
10. Salvage assistance
The Master shall arrange for immediate salvage assistance if the grounding constitutes a serious and immediate threat to crew, environment, vessel or cargo.