Things That Go Bump in the Night

Breakbulk Magazine cover with eery head overlaid with lights, graphs, etc. "Technology's Heavy Load"By Greg Borossay

Editor’s Note: This issue introduces Legal Spotlight, a new semi-regular feature covering industry legal case law, with lessons learned.

The Scene:

The parties were:

1. A local stevedore

2. A small U.S. Pacific Northwest port

3. A container operator near the port

4. The local ILWU night shift gang.

There was light rain with an early fall storm approaching. What could possibly go wrong?

The Facts:

1.  A stator – an expensive piece of mining equipment built in Canada by General Electric and valued at US$1 million at the time of the incident – along with two other pieces were loaded and lashed onto a single 40-foot-equivalent-unit flat rack. Using standard maritime chains and binders, flat rack GAEU750946-0 was loaded with three pieces. The weights of the various pieces on this single 40-foot flat rack were:

Crated stator: 43,000 pounds

Crated drill press: 3,000 pounds

Crated trunnion: 11,800 pounds

40-foot flat rack: 10,500 pounds

Total weight :     68,300 pounds

2.  Then, the entire flat rack holding the stator, drill press and trunnion was loaded by an International Longshoreman Workers Union, or ILWU, crew hired using two shoreside yard cranes and placed on a Transport International Pool, or TIP, street step deck chassis leased by JSC for the purpose of moving the cargo from place of rest in the container yard to the place of loading under the ships gear or “hook.

3.  It is noteworthy that the crated stator was much wider than the flat rack on which it was placed. Further, although the stator is a heavy circular piece of machinery with a hollow center area, there were no lifting marks or center of gravity information on the crate to guide ILWU dockworkers on the proper handling of the piece

4.  The flat rack as placed on the leased chassis was coming into contact with the wheels of the chassis, preventing the wheels from turning. ILWU dock-handling crew used a forklift to relieve the weight of the load from the tires of the chassis in order to move the cargo under the ships gear. The forklift together with the yard tractor/hustler were moving the cargo for loading when at the point of the last turn towards the vessel, the load crossed the crane rail on the dock and fell to the ground, damaging the stator.

Who Was Responsible?

The court found that the stevedore was mainly responsible, with liability also extending to the off-dock depot, the port and the shipper due to lack of marks and numbers. Here are the reasons for the court’s decision

•  Failure to advise the port of the high dollar value of the stator shipments

•  Choosing to load three pieces onto a single flat rack on a pre-lashed basis to reduce the number of slots used on the vessel, rather than to load the cargo direct to vessel as true breakbulk cargo

•  Lack of markings showing lift points, the lack of visual access into the crate to view the stator and the lack of center of gravity indications on the external crate.

•  Deciding to lease a TIP step-deck chassis without adequate carrying capacity to handle the 68,300-pound load.

•  Deciding to use a forklift to permit movement of the cargo by lifting the load at the centerline of the flat rack.

•  Lack of proper markings indicating lifting points and center of gravity information on the exterior of the crate holding the stator contributed to the incident. Had the proper markings been in view the night of the incident, the ILWU would have refused to handle, move or load the cargo because they would have felt that the load was unsafe as positioned on the chassis.

•  The use of a single 40-foot flat rack for loading multiple crated breakbulk pieces is not the safest or most desirable method to handle this type of heavy cargo. While this type of loading is typical in the industry for multiple pieces that when crated fall within the dimensions of the 40-foot flat rack, this type of loading is not recommended for heavy over-width and over-height pieces loaded with high value cargo destined for long ocean voyages on the north Pacific.

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Alternative Safe Loading Options:

Safer loading options should have been considered, such as direct loading from street legal lowboy trailer.

The safest method for loading a high-value breakbulk piece of cargo with the characteristics of the stator is direct loading from the trucker’s street legal lowboy trailer to flat rack equipment pre-positioned on the vessel. This method of loading removes the need for leasing of additional yard equipment and minimizes handling of the piece until it is safely stowed in position on the vessel. This method of loading requires a high degree of coordination between trucker, vessel operator and shipper, so it is not often used in the trade. It is usually used for solar turbines, observatory lenses and large yachts.

Another safer method would have been the use of a heavy-duty lowboy or Mafi trailer from the ground to ship to load breakbulk. This method involves use of a shore-side crane to load the cargo onto heavy duty yard equipment that is then moved to the hook for loading breakbulk to the vessel using ship’s gear or a gantry crane. The second stator that loaded safely was loaded in this manner.

Lessons Learned

1:  The shipper must advise the value of the cargo to all parties in the transportation chain well in advance.

2:  The shipper and manufacturer must place legible and highly visible marks and numbers on the outside crating of valuable pieces due to potential for loading at night in poor weather conditions.

3: Shippers should buy liability insurance for the full value of the cargo. This cargo was only covered at US$250,000 but valued at more than US$1 million.

4: Shippers should hire a competent local surveyor to monitor and be present on the site during the entire loading process.

5: Shippers should use qualified vendors who specialize in breakbulk separate from container operations.

6: Loading should be done in the best conditions, during daylight whenever possible.

7: Shippers should not try to save money by cutting corners on lashing and binding.

8: They should be a more active participant in the loading of valuable cargo.

Greg Borossay is an attorney at law, specializing in admiralty and transportation. He has his own private practice and until recently was the general manager, trade and cargo development, at the Port of Portland’s Marine Division. He can be contacted on, +1 949 633 9158.


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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