Working with the Deck Department

This week, Barr and I started spending more time with the deck department.  Besides helping the first mate check containers after we leave port, we have spent the majority of our time with the engine department.  With only two weeks left, we wanted to experience ship operations from the other perspective.

In Seattle, we returned to the ship earlier than usual to observe cargo operations from the main deck.  Barr and I walked around with the first mate, who showed us how the cargo containers are secured on deck.  The containers are secured at each of their four corners using twist locks, which are spring loaded. Each container has openings in its four corners for the twist locks.  Twist locks have a special shape, which allows them to rotate as the weight of the container is applied to them.  The twist lock rotates so it fits inside the opening of the container.  Once it passes through this opening, it rotates back to lock the container in place.

Twist Lock
Twist lock, used to secure cargo containers

Cargo loading and unloading is all controlled and monitored by the terminal.  A truck is used to move the container underneath the container crane.  The container crane operator lifts the container and places it in the appropriate position according to a container plan, which is created by the ship owner’s engineering staff. The container cranes move along tracks parallel to the ship.  Longshoremen are responsible for coordinating the loading and unloading of containers.  Longshoremen must make sure the containers go in the correct spots, in the correct order, with twist locks in the correct mounts for securing.  The whole process is chaotic.  There are tons of containers, and people moving around. I’m impressed how well a job they do.  Especially considering many of the conditions they work under.  It was raining pretty hard by Seattle standards, which was creating flooding on many parts of the deck.   The first mate also recounted a time at the Seattle port where she remembers crunching through snow on main deck.

One of the first mate’s responsibilities, during cargo operations, is to check that each twist lock has locked into place correctly, and to fix the ones that haven’t.  The automatic functionality of a twist lock is convenient, but many times, after it enters the container opening, the spring does not rotate the lock back into place properly. Therefore, that corner of the container is not secured.  Many times Matson also hires an outside party, who have additional personnel to check the twist locks. Since the twist locks are the main mode of securing cargo, it is a good idea to have them double checked.

While on deck, we also got the chance see a hatch cover lifted back onto the ship by the container crane.  The hatch covers are not secured in place at all.  The weight of the cover and the containers stacked on top of it keep it in position.

After the last container is loaded, another one of the first mate’s responsibilities is to climb down the gangway and check the ship’s drafts at bow and stern.  These numbers are then radioed to the second mate.

Before we entered the port of Oakland, the first mate also had us observe “port prep.”  Before entering each port, the deck department must lay out the mooring lines that are going to be used on the bow and stern.  The Manoa usually moors with four lines on the bow and four on the stern, two spring and two head on each end.  That afternoon, I was stationed on the stern to watch mooring operations as we entered the port of Oakland. Coming into this port requires an impressive 360 degree turn to get us in the right direction for when we leave.  Watching the stern tugboat push and pull us through the maneuver, I gained a new appreciation for tugs.

Another type of equipment used for securing cargo containers is lashing.  Long metal lashing rods are secured to the deck on one end and to the corner of a container on the other.  A single arrangement refers to two lashing crossed on each end of the container stack, with the lashing secured to the bottom corners of the container on the second tier.  A double arrangement is the same as a single arrangement, but with two additional lashing that are secured to the top corners of the first tier container.  On Matson ships, lashing is not used on every stack of containers.  The container planners determine which stacks need lashing based on the weight of the stack and its position on deck.  At the port of Oakland, we loaded enough cargo, that certain stacks required lashing for additional support. This is the first trip that we’ve experienced where lashing has been used.  Therefore, this time when we went around after leaving port to check that all the containers were in the correct positions, we also checked that the lashing arrangements matched the container plan.

The other major deck department responsibility that we were involved with this week was bridge watch.  I started going up to the bridge for an hour before work in the morning from 0630 to 0730.  Barr started going up for an hour after work from 1600 to 1700.  We both received a tour of the bridge.  We learned about the different types of radar that are used, the different types of steering, and the rules of the road when it comes to maneuvering around other ships.  Even with multiple GPS and radar units, the bridge personnel still also use paper charts. Every hour they are expected to mark their position on the chart and their projected position for the next hour.  We also learned how to fill out the deck department logbook, where information such as position and weather conditions are recorded.

I really enjoyed working with the deck department this week.  We were again bombarded with lots of new information and experiences.  I have learned so much, especially from the first mate, who has taken the time out of her hectic schedule to teach us.

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