The conference room table at the Transport Canada office in Vancouver groaned under the weight of books with the IMO imprint.
Capt. To For (John) Yeung gestured at the pile and said to me, “I will give you our normal one-week training in two hours.”
He proceeded to work through the intricacies of a port state control (PSC) inspection, starting with the external check of the load line. “Sometimes the cruise ships have full gray water tanks while in port and this can cause them to go below their load line,” he explained.
Photos of typical infractions shown to me included a crack in a cargo hold bulkhead, holes in the poop deck, butterfly nuts gone from vent closures, a sealed water tank vent, worn wiring insulation, poor pressure hose patches, an oil hose passed through a sounding pipe, missing handrails, fire doors lashed open, leaking fire hoses, missing life rings and a life jacket storage locker used for other purposes.
He proceeded with the assistance of Engineer Shishir Rawat, a senior marine inspector, to give some background to the port state program. He explained that it is more than a simple inspection of the physical state of a ship, as it also looks at shipboard procedures and systems. The purpose is to verify that foreign vessels meet international safety, security and environmental standards, and that the crew has adequate living and working conditions. In 1982 the original agreement was developed by a core group of 14 nations that signed the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This original program has since grown to 27 members from around the northern Atlantic. A number of similar MoUs for other regions have been signed since. Under the provisions of the MoUs, member nations share a common databank of inspections.
Canada, with both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, is also an active participant in the 18-member Tokyo MoU signed in 1993. This membership is crucial to the selection of vessels to be inspected. Working from the shared Tokyo database, a number of criteria will bring a ship up to a Category I designation, indicating the highest priority for inspection. These criteria include the number of months since the last inspection (generally ships get inspected about every six months), the three-year record of detentions for ships of that flag, the record of the class society, the age of the ship and the type of ship. Certain types of ships get more frequent inspections. Beyond the PSC, Canada requires inspection of all tankers on a more frequent basis in addition to some special rules on bulkers.
In addition to these and other criteria that can raise the priority for inspection, Transport Canada will respond with an inspection in response to other factors such as a concern expressed by a Canadian pilot.
A few days after my brief "training," I accompanied Yeung and Rawat on an inspection. The ship was Coronado, a Maltese-registered 738-by-105-foot bulker loading grain on the Vancouver waterfront. Before boarding, the inspectors walked from the stern to the bow observing the hull and its marks. "This one is good," said Yeung, pointing out the hawse pipe that held the anchor out from the hull. "With some we find damage to the hawse pipe or hull from the anchor."
Before the visit, Yeung had gone online to see previous inspections for that ship and to check for detentions. There had been two inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans in 2011. Unfortunately, the United States is not a signatory of either the Paris or the Tokyo MoU, so details of those inspections were not in the shared database. The last inspection under the Tokyo MoU had been in Australia in November of 2010. Six minor defects, including combustible garbage containers in the accommodation area, had been recorded, and the Vancouver inspectors would take special note of these. The ship had no history of detentions.
Since 2001 the inspection has added a security component. This included a security check by ship's crew at the top of the gangway. Once aboard, the inspectors went to the captain's cabin to examine documents. Just as we had seen in Yeung's Vancouver office, the table in the captain's cabin was soon filled with ring binders. "First I would like to see copies of your recent inspections," Capt. Yeung asked.
The document confirmed what Yeung had already seen in his database, including the lack of non-flammable containers in the accommodation area. One after the other, Capt. Vasile Pricope put the requested documents on the table. There were records of the last 10 port calls, the Bureau Veritas (BV) classification documents for the Japanese-built ship, a Det Norske Veritas International Ship Security Certificate, a Document of Compliance to show there was adequate insurance for damage to property or the environment in Canadian waters, membership in the local oil spill response organization and many more.
Only one of several ballast tanks had water in it, and officers had taken a sample before the ship entered Canada. The sample was then examined for salinity. This enabled the inspectors to confirm the report, send it to Canadian officials 96 hours before the ship's arrival, to show that the ballast water had been exchanged in at least 6,560 feet of water a minimum of 200 miles offshore. This latter is not yet an international requirement but is required by Canada.
Capt. Crispino Portes was on a familiarization voyage prior to taking command of the ship at its next stop in Yokohama, Japan. The document review gave him an opportunity to learn about that large aspect of the modern captain's responsibilities. He brought the BV-issued Cargo Ship Safety Equipment Certificate to the table. Among other things this showed the number of people for whom there was lifeboat capacity. This was in turn checked against the crew size and safe manning certificate. A random check was made of the documents for some of the four Romanian and 19 Philippine crewmembers.
After a full hour of reviewing documents, all of which were in order, the inspectors began a visual tour of the ship, top to bottom, beginning with the emergency compass binnacle on the wheelhouse roof and the voyage data recorder. The inspectors' experienced eyes (the two have a combined sea experience in excess of 40 years) were constantly checking for telltale cracks in metal, worn paint or anything that looked out of place.
On the bridge they checked charts for updates and notifications and a dozen other details relating to the safety of the ship's crew and navigation. A fire hose was deployed and activated on the bridge deck. A random visit was made to a crew cabin to ensure safe living conditions and stowage of life jacket and survival suit. The hospital room was visited and the emergency oxygen device demonstrated. The galley, where the offending wooden-lidded plastic garbage cans were again noted, was visited. The cook led the inspectors down to his food storage area with coolers and freezers. Among other things, the inspectors noted adequate provisions for the anticipated voyage and also noted that the emergency alarm from inside the freezer was operating as were the interior exit systems.
A lifeboat was checked while still in the chocks, with crew being directed to start the engine in forward and reverse and demonstrate the rudder movement. A lifeboat canister and hydrostatic release were checked, and on through numerous other items. Next the emergency-generator-set room was examined and the inspectors requested that the generator be started with each of its two independent battery banks. When one of the batteries blew a cap off a cell, the explosive sound got everyone's attention and earned a deficiency mark.
The engine room is arranged on three or four levels with its complex of systems surrounding the B&W two-stroke, seven-cylinder main engine generating 12,701 hp at 122 rpm. Inspections began at the upper level in the control room and then worked downward to test the oily water separator, emergency bilge pump and other auxiliary systems.
Chief Engineer Nelson Falconite accompanied the inspectors throughout this phase of the inspection.
In one instance a drain valve was designed in such a way that it could be improperly locked open. As this should only be open with a crewmember visually monitoring it, the valve was noted for corrective action.
A final examination of the main shaft as it exited the hull completed the inspection of the engine room. Yeung and Rawat then went to the main deck level. Here they checked that a fire systems plan was properly stowed in a container on both port and starboard sides of the deckhouse to aid any emergency crews boarding the vessel. Walking forward, the inspectors checked the rubber seals on an open hatch cover, examined hatches, mooring lines, life rings, non-slip deck paint on the walkway and numerous other details that their experienced eyes took in.
As he had explained earlier, Capt. Yeung approached a ship with a degree of subjectivity that used a range of criteria such as hydraulic oil leaking from a deck winch. Any one of these details may not itself be an infraction, but the sum total of these details may suggest that a ship should receive a closer examination.
From the main deck, the group of inspectors and ship's officers returned to the captain's office for a closing meeting. After complimenting the captain on the excellent condition of his ship, Rawat took a form from his briefcase. Headed "Report of Inspection: In accordance with memoranda of understanding on port state control," the document contained space to record deficiencies and followup actions. In the whole of the ship inspection, there were only four deficiencies that needed to go on the form, which was completed in triplicate, with one copy to be left with the master, one for the inspectors and one to be filed in Ottawa.
On the form, the deviation on the magnetic compass and the plastic garbage bins were duly noted, as were the drain valves and emergency genset batteries. One of the officers explained that the offending battery had already been replaced, so Rawat went to check that and noted on the form that it had been corrected.
The captain assured the inspectors that the garbage bins would be replaced before the ship left port and that the drains would be corrected. The inspectors said the ship would have to hire a compass adjuster to have the compass adjusted.
Again the inspectors commented on the cleanliness of the ship right down to the immaculate condition of the paint in the bilges. Capt. Pricope modestly credited the quality of the Japanese construction. One of the inspectors mentioned that he has had captains on substandard ships actually ask that deficiencies be recorded as the only way to get the owners to pay for repairs. The four items identified on this ship were relatively minor and did not require a detention. In fact, explained Yeung, detentions in Vancouver had declined from 24 in 2000 to only 5 in 2010. He credited this to owners understanding the importance of cooperation in assuring safe ships.
As we left the ship, I asked a deck officer if the inspection had been stressful for the crew. "Oh no," he replied. "For the crew it is good because it is for our safety. For a company it might be bad, because they have to spend money to fix things."