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Heavy-Lifting Shipping Services

What is Project Cargo?

“Cargo or equipment that may be large, heavy or out-of gauge, requires specialised stowage, lifting, handling, may consist of high value or critical items and typically consists of a quantity of goods connected to the same project, which may be loaded from different ports.”

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A wide range of cargoes fall within the definition of project cargo, from traditional break-bulk type cargoes (that meet the above quoted criteria) to large single items such as cranes or oil & gas modules.

The cargo insurers will stipulate certain conditions (a warranty) for the purpose of the insurance. If the cargo to be carried meets certain criteria (often referred to as Critical Items), then certain procedures will have to be followed under the warranty. Critical items may fall under one (or both) of two broad headings:

  • Those that are critical because of the cost and difficulty of replacement and;

  • Those that may require unusual provisions for safe loading, stowage, lashing and discharge – whether all of those aspects or only one.

These criteria may include the replacement lead time, the value of the cargo (individually and / or in total), the size or footprint, weight, the centre of gravity and whether specialised transport, lifting and / or securing is required.

Cargo types that may fall within the definition of a critical item may include:

  • Oil & gas equipment for onshore and offshore infrastructure;

  • Refinery and Petrochemical plant equipment;

  • Renewables equipment for onshore and offshore infrastructure;

  • Modules and Pre-assembled Units;

  • Port Handling Equipment;

  • Port Construction;

  • Floating Cargo;

  • Rolling Stock;

  • Heavy Machinery;

  • Power Plants and power generation equipment;

Critical items require special attention during their transportation, careful assessment and detailed planning of the operations is required for the transport to the load-port, loading, stowage, securing and discharge of the cargo.

Loading and discharge

The responsibilities of each party must be agreed and documented prior to commencement of operations and should set out the chain of responsibility, persons in charge and contact details for all relevant persons.

  1. Instructions / information from Shippers: The shipping note provides details of the contents of a cargo consignment to carriers, forwarders and receivers.

  2. Industry guidelines and Best Practice: For any cargo movement, in particular for loading and discharge operations, a full and detailed plan must be produced and adhered to. The plan should take due account of the requirements and recommendations of industry best practice guidelines and rules.

  3. Heavy Lift Equipment and Relevant Requirements: Lifting gear may include wires, shackles, spreader beams, lifting blocks / hooks and should be documented onboard the vessel or with the crane (shore-side). All lifting equipment should be certified and its Safe Working Load (SWL) or Working Load Limit (WLL) and Minimum Breaking Load (MBL) documented and made visible on the item itself. Lifting lugs / eyes on the cargo unit should be located to provide a stable lift, accounting for any offset of the unit’s Centre of Gravity. They must also be strong enough for the lift, including any dynamic lifting loads. All lifting gear and lifting points on the cargo should be inspected before commencing the lift.

  4. Lifting and Rigging Plans; For any heavy lift, it is essential to properly develop and document a lifting plan that should define the procedures for the lift and provide accurate information on the Centre of Gravity of the unit, the proposed lifting spread to be employed and the calculation of the rigging stability (the lifting triangle). It should document the loads expected to be experienced and the safety factors used in selecting the lifting gear. It should also assess the need for centre of gravity corrections (e.g. use of water bags) and possible test lifts to ensure stability (insurance policy coverage should be checked in this case).

    All crane lifts should be carefully assessed to adequate clearances with the cargo unit itself, vessel and port infrastructure. Tandem crane lifts must be planned in detail to ensure the correct synchronous movement of the cranes.

    Lifting lugs / eyes on the cargo unit should be located to provide a stable lift, accounting for any offset of the unit’s Centre of Gravity. They must also be strong enough for the lift, including any dynamic lifting loads (see Section 6(b)). All lifting gear and lifting points on the cargo should be inspected before commencing the lift.

  5. Limiting Conditions and External Influences; The lift should have limiting conditions imposed on it to ensure that the design loads for which it is rated are not exceeded. These will include limiting wind conditions, vessel motions (which may differ for in-harbour and offshore operations) and where positional accuracy is important, the lift may be limited to day-time hours only. Significant crane slewing (rotation) and other horizontal motions should be assessed to ensure that the dynamic loads imposed are within the capacity of the lifting system. Similarly, lifting in to and out of water imposes additional loads on the lift and must be assessed. Reference should be made to the relevant industry guidelines for the determination of these loads.

  6. Loading Sequence and Trim, Ballasting: During loading and discharge operations, it may be necessary to carefully manage the vessel’s drafts and trim. This is particularly important for ‘drive-on/ off’ and ‘float-on/off’ operations. Careful ballasting is required to ensure that the required drafts and trim are maintained during the course of the operation and this should be properly calculated and documented. The ballast tank and pump capacity of the vessel should be checked to ensure that it is adequate, particularly for barge transports.

Other Loading Methods

Float On/Off: This method of loading and discharging is employed by semi-submersible Heavy Lift Vessels and submersible pontoon barges. Cargoes may include offshore platforms, jack-ups, other vessels (e.g. barges, tugs etc) and large project cargoes that are suitable for ‘wet’ loading / discharging. These vessels can be expensive to charter, but provide a safe and relatively fast option for transportation.

Skid-On/Off: Pontoon barges, module carriers and semi-submersible Heavy Lift Vessels are commonly loaded by cargo being skidded into position. Large Oil and Gas units (e.g. Topside modules) are often loaded by this method. These are typically bespoke operations allocated to a specialised contractor.

Roll-On/Off: Wheeled cargoes can be driven onto and off the vessel. Many project cargoes are loaded / discharged using Self-Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMT’s). SPMT’s provide a flexible loading / discharge method and are capable of dealing with inclined and uneven routes.

Other Matters

Ground Bearing Pressure; The ability of the load path (ashore) to withstand the weight passing over it without undue deformation, which might result in damage to the load path and/or a loss of stability of the load-transporting equipment. This can also be a factor with lifted loads, especially where a high capacity mobile crane is utilised. The loading capacity of port facilities should be determined and account taken of any damaged or degraded areas. Repair and/or consolidation may be required to provide a usable load-path over which a heavy unit can be skidded or driven, or a crane safely located. The transport of the unit to the load port and onwards from the discharge port must also be considered. A route survey may be required. 

Transhipments; Transhipment of cargo should, under ideal circumstances, be avoided as generally the cargo is at its most vulnerable when being handled. However there are circumstances when it cannot be avoided. Transhipment operations (especially vessel to vessel) require very detailed and careful planning. 

Barge Transport; Whilst there are Heavy Transport Vessels capable of carrying modules of 2-3,000 tonnes quite often towed barge transport is the only reasonable solution to heavy lift transport, especially where large and heavy structures are concerned. These may include container cranes, large tanks or jackets and decks for offshore installation. Barge transport is inevitably slower than the use of an equivalent vessel. It will also require the fixture of a suitable towing vessel and may require more sophisticated voyage planning where a tow is lengthy or transits through known hazardous or adverse weather areas. Barge transports should be carefully planned as they are generally a higher risk method.

Management of Operations: For any loading and discharge operation, the planning of the operation must include provision for hold points during the operation and ‘tool-box’ talks. These help to ensure the safe progression of the operation and that all persons involved understand the next steps, responsibilities and so forth. Appropriate Risk Assessments including HAZID/HAZOP meetings should be carried out, which should involve all relevant parties and be approved by all. This should also include Management of Changes (any deviations from agreed procedures) to be documented and agreed by all parties.

Stowage requirements

Different vessels types are better suited to certain types of project cargoes. They all have their specific advantages and disadvantages, but in general the specialist heavy lift vessels will be more expensive to charter, but are better suited to the cargo types typically shipped and therefore the overall shipment is safer. Cheaper vessels such as bulk carriers or general cargo vessels are often employed as they are seen as cheaper. However they are not designed to carry these types of cargoes and their use often leads to increased costs, either due to cargo damage claims or the extra design and work required to make the cargo shipment as safe as possible – this tends to nullify the perceived cost benefit.

Clearly, very large cargo units will require sufficiently large amounts of deck space and this often dictates the choice of vessel to those with the required deck space – usually specialist heavy lift ships. This often means that the cargo is placed ‘on deck’ and not in the holds. Suitable protection from the elements is then required. Deck cargoes will often be specified as being carried at shipper’s risk and it is important to note this and take action accordingly.

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