Inspection and Preparation of Holds

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After unloading of cargo it is very important the responsible officer does a proper inspection and preparation of Holds. Inspection of hold helps identify for structural damage or defects in the hold. It also help to know if any damage done by the stevedores, and same can be mentioned in the stevedore damage report. We will study further about inspection of holds.

Similarly it is important to prepare holds before loading the next cargo. Preparation of holds depends upon the next cargo, if next cargo is compatible with the last, a good sweep down and removal of leftover cargo is all that is required. If however, the next cargo is incompatible with the last or if you are loading sensitive cargoes such as foodstuffs, a more thorough cleaning may be required.

Why inspection and preparation of holds is important?

Cargo spaces intended to be used for loading should be inspected to ensure that the compartment intended to be loaded with cargo is clean, dry and ready in all respect to receive the cargo being offered.

Thorough inspection of holds is needed to:

Avoid contamination

  • No residue of the previous cargo to be left
  • Holds are Taint free.
  • No Visible loose rust which can cause contamination.


  • Holds are safe for stevedores to work.
  • Detect physical damage within the hold. It also benefits in raising new stevedore damage claims.
  • Damages to the ship structure, checking for corrosion/ cracks to get an early warning for parts/ portions/ strengthening structures to be renewed/ repaired.

Prevent Cargo Damage

  • which can be caused from operational bilges
  • ballast lines and/or
  • lack of weather tight integrity of hatch covers

Fire Safety

  • Identification of fire hazard for the intended cargo and availability of firefighting equipment.

So, now we know why it is important, let us see what all you need to inspect.

Items to be inspected

1. Check that the designated compartments are clean and ready to receive cargo.

a. Holds properly swept and cleaned from previous cargo residue.

b. Loose rust scale and loose paint removed.

c. Holds free from all stains.

d. Depending upon charterers’ requirement, holds effectively washed/rinsed & dried.

2. Check that the drainage and bilge suctions are working effectively and that bilge wells are dry. Bilges to be sweetened for some particular cargoes and covered with burlap and cemented.

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3. No leakage from ballast tanks present.

4. Sounding pipes and air pipes passing from holds are clean and rust free.

5. Ensure that cargo battens (spar ceiling) is in position and not damaged

(Note: some cargoes may require cargo battens to be removed)

6. Check that the hatch lighting’s are in good order. Isolate lights if it poses fire hazard for the intended cargo.

7. Inspect and ensure all means of access to the compartments are safe.

8. Guard rails and safety barriers should be seen to be in place.

9. Ensure all necessary fixed and portable fire-fighting arrangements are ready for immediate use. Blow through CO2/Halon lines with compressed air.

10. Inspect Cargo Hold Ventilation system.

11. Inspect and ensure hatch covers are weather tight and that all the securing devices are in good working condition.

12. If Cargo Hold is meant to take heavy weather ballast then pressure test the lines for leakage and subsequently blank off the ballast lines.

13. Double Bottom tank manhole covers to be absolutely tight.

14. Cargo securing points/ fixed fittings etc are in good condition.

So once a Hold is inspected let us proceed to prepare a Hold for loading.

Hold Preparation

As per Charter party or as per contract of carriage the owner is required to “… make the holds, refrigerating and cooling chambers and all other parts of the ship where goods are carried, fit and safe for their reception, carriage and preservation”.

The owner is required to present his vessel in a state that he is ready to load cargo, that means the holds are ‘clean and dry’ prior to commencement of loading. If the owner fails to present his ship in a proper state to receive cargo, he risks to claims amounting to large sums of money. It is, therefore of utmost important to prepare cargo holds of ship to loading.

Cargo quality can be affected due to

  • Contamination
  • Staining
  • Water contact
  • Inadequate ventilation

To avoid contamination and water contact of cargo it is better to inspect and test the Hatch Covers and Bilge Suction. Contamination, Staining, Water contact and Inadequate ventilation can also occur if proper dunnage is not used or laid in the cargo hold.

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Ventilation procedure to be followed properly to avoid cargo damage. Read more about Cargo ventilation here.

Checking weather-tightness of the hatch cover

The two most common leak detection tests are

  1. the water hose test
  2. the ultrasonic test

Ultrasonic testing is the preferred method because areas of inadequate hatch sealing are accurately located.

While other method are also used such as, Chalk testing gives only an indication of poor compression and potential leaks. Chalk testing is not a leak detection test. Light testing is also effective but is potentially dangerous because personnel are in a closed, dark hold looking for light infiltration between panels.

Checking Bilge Suction

Neglecting maintenance and testing of hold bilge systems can have serious consequences, resulting in unnecessary cargo claims due to water contamination.

The bilge suction line in the hold bilge is normally fitted with a perforated strum box which prevents cargo debris from entering the bilge line. The strum box should be thoroughly cleaned after each cargo discharge and if possible, dismantled and checked for damage or corrosion. The end of the bilge suction line must be confirmed as clear, with no debris fouling the end of the suction pipe.

Hold Bilge Suction Arrangement
inspection and planning
Hold Bilge Suction Filters

Follow Below procedure to test Hold Bilges:

  • Test bilge suction by filling bilge well with water and pumping it out.
  • Non return valves fitted in the hold bilge pumping systems are to ensure that water pumped from the hold bilges to the engine room and over-side or into a holding tank cannot flow back via the bilge line into the hold bilge wells and then into the cargo hold.
  • The easiest way to test the non return valve is to stop the pump (or eductor) and allow water to flood back into the bilge line up to the non return valve. If no water enters the hold bilge then the non return valve is working correctly. As prudent seamanship all non return valves on the bilge line should be overhauled on a regular basis.

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