An onboard inspection can only be successful if the tanker has been prepared for the inspection. For this reason, some companies perform pre-vetting inspections by internal resources prior to the vetting inspections by the oil majors. These inspections normally take place during discharge.
Most of the vetting inspectors are former seafarers with long experience from various types of tanker vessels. Most likely the first impression is formed already at the time the inspector arrives at the gangway and then continues all the way until the closing meeting have been completed. Inspectors will be looking for objective criteria by which to judge the tanker. Thus, the importance of the route from the ship side to the Master's office should not be underestimated. Remember that, as always, you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.
Make sure that the inspection is scheduled at a convenient time for the vessel, so it does not conflict with other inspections. Apart from the required operation of the vessel the inspection should be given the highest priority.
Make sure that each head of department has completed and signed off his own part of the vessel inspection questionnaire before arrival at port and that any deficiencies have been reported/corrected. This should be incorporated into the normal routine guidelines.
Although it is the Master's overall responsibility to prepare for an inspection, this is a teamwork involving all crew members.
Prior to the inspection a copy of the below documents should, as a minimum, be made ready for the inspector:
- Classification documents
- Certificate of registry
- Cargo ship safety construction certificate
- Cargo ship safety equipment certificate
- Safety radiotelegraphy certificate
- Load line certificate
- IMO certificate of fitness
- IOPP certificate & supplement
- Certificate of financial responsibility
- Crew list
- Drawing of the vessel's cargo tank arrangement
- Vessel's safe manning document
Masters should lay out the certificates in the same order as they appear in the VPQ/VIQ (Vessel Particular Questionnaire/Vessel Inspection Questionnaire) This saves time and creates a good impression of a systematic preparation, and the following documentation should also be presented:
- The officer's qualification matrix
- Officer's licenses
- Health certificates
- P&A manual
- Approved crude oil washing manual
- Approved ballast manual
- Oil/Cargo record book
- Oil transfer procedures
- Garbage log for compliance with MARPOL Annex V
- Proof of cargo hose / pipe pressure testing
- Proof of fixed and portable firefighting equipment servicing
- Proof of professional servicing of breathing apparatus
- Proof of life raft servicing
- Settings for vessel's pressure/vacuum valves
- Shipping document and cargo manifest
- Certificate of inhabitation or stabilization of cargo
- Declaration of Inspection if transferring bunkers
- Cargo Information cards for the cargo on board
- Inert gas manual
- Vessel response plan
- Safety manual
- Vessel operation manual
- Company's policy for upgrading and training
Be prepared to calibrate and/or demonstrate the proper operation of:
- Combustible gas detectors or fixed gas detection system
- Oxygen analyser
- Toxic gas detector
- Overboard discharge monitor
- Cargo pump emergency shutdown and bearing alarms
- High level alarms
- Overfill alarms
- Quick closing valves
Be prepared to demonstrate the proper operation of the following systems/alarms:
- Inert gas system alarms
- Oily water separator
- Firefighting systems
- Steering gear
- Emergency generator
- Engine room ventilation shutdowns
- Fuel oil quick-closing valves valve
In addition, the following items may be checked and should be ready:
- Firemen's outfits
- International shore connection
- Navigation equipment
- ECDIS including latest corrections
- Publication including corrections
- EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon), pyrotechnics and hydrostatic releases
- Flame screens, bunker tanks
- Suitable paint locker
- Marine sanitation device
Reference should also be made to the requirements of the oil major inspecting the vessel. The following items are of vital importance as these provide an overall impression of the vessel and will play an essential part in how the inspection will be conducted.
- Gangway: Correctly arranged - is the gangway net rigged? Is there a life ring nearby?
- Deck Watch: Is a deck watch present at the gangway?
- Ask the inspector of his identity (should be verified by ID) and who he wants to see
- Confirm with the Duty Officer that this is OK
- One crew member should guide the inspector to the Master's office
- All applicable warning signs must be posted
- All crew should wear required PPE
- Fire equipment at the manifold must be in place and correctly rigged
- Deck clean and free of oil/water and obstructions
- Scuppers blocked and emergency pump in position and discharge connected
- Cargo information: Make sure that all personnel involved in the cargo operations are briefed regarding what cargoes are being loaded/discharged, particularly the deck watch. All MSDS to be posted and easily readable.
- Emergency equipment working, present and clearly marked
- Moorings in good order with no lines on the winch ends
- Accommodation clean and tidy, all doors closed, and a positive pressure maintained
Remember, you do not pass or fail a vetting inspection!
The results from a vetting inspection will give the oil major information needed to decide if the vessel is accepted for use.
However, you shall be well prepared and make sure that the inspector is accompanied on the vessel during the inspection. The best people to do this would be the Master, Chief Officer, 2nd Officer (Navigation Officer), Chief Engineer and the 1st Engineer (Second Engineer).
Normally, the inspector will start by checking all certificates and documentation with the Master followed by a tour on bridge, deck, accommodation, provision room and engine/steering gear room. However, it must be remembered that the order and schedule of the inspection can be changed to achieve less disturbance to the normal operations onboard. With the OCIMF VPQ (Vessel Particular Questionnaire), much of the data referring to the tanker will have been completed in advance. Make sure that you have a completed and up to date copy available for the inspector as this will save much time.
Some of the most common deficiencies are found in the following areas:
Bridge and radio room
- Passage plan only pilot to pilot. Ensure that the filed passage plan covers berth to berth navigation.
- Missing publications or old editions onboard when new publications have been issued
- No emergency anchorage marked
- No-go areas not marked
- No point of no return marked
- Master's standing orders and night order book missing or not completed
- No logs for gyro error
- No entry of position on the ECDIS chart during transit of pilotage to berth
Cargo control room and tank deck
- No cargo/ballast plan available
- Hydraulic leaks on deck
- Officers and ratings not wearing proper PPE on deck
- ODM (Oil Discharge Monitor) not tested
- The manifold valves of the opposite side to the discharging side are not closed and/or pressure gauge having defects or missing
- No screens inside the vents for the ballast tanks
- No calibration gas for gas detection instruments
- No policy for tank entry
Engine room and steering gear
- No procedures or instructions posted for foam system
- Chief Engineer's standing orders and night order book are missing or not completed
- Emergency steering procedures not posted properly in the steering gear room
- Hot work procedures not used or not present in the manuals
- No safety guidelines available for engine room/workshop welding equipment
- No eye protection warning notices posted for engine workshop machinery
- No clean goggles by grinders and lathes
- Overhead ventilation greasy which is a fire hazard
- Accommodation ventilators with no identification labels
- Required temperature of the meat/fish room not maintained correctly
The closing meeting
The inspector should sit down and discuss observations and comments after the inspection is completed. If not, the Master should record a written objection that this has not taken place and inform his company immediately.
If the Master's opinion is that some of the observations are not correct or it has been raised due to a misunderstanding, this is the time to bring this up with the inspector. Minor observations that have been rectified in front of the inspector should be requested to be removed from the list provided to the Master.
The inspector gives the Master a written list of the observations found:
- Correct all observations as soon as possible
- Send the report to the head office or department in charge
- Complete the Inspector Feedback Form and send it together with the report
Owner's comments (one of the most important aspects)
When the vetting inspector leaves the gangway, the vessel inspection is finalized. However, it is now that the screening process begins, and the owners reply to any comments or deficiencies raised play a very important part in this screening process.
What the charterer is looking for are quality replies to the comments raised and which indicate that the comments are taken seriously by the owner. These replies will be used as a measure of the owner's quality management, and this process will form part of the vetting manager's assessment of the quality of the vessel and on-board procedures.
Many otherwise acceptable vessels do not pass this part of the vetting process because the owner's replies to the vetting inspection do not provide "closure" of the indicated conditions, and this results in the "approval" either being delayed or denied.
It is important that the owner sends replies that show acceptance of and respect for the system and that the owner has an active Safety Management System in place that takes every deficiency seriously. The owner's replies should make it possible to identify the root cause of the deficiency and it must address the real cause of the deficiency. It should be considered to make changes to existing operation procedures that are necessary to reduce the chance of the deficiency occurring again.
Some examples of replies that do not live up this standard are e.g., "The deficiency has been rectified", "the deficiency will be rectified at the earliest opportunity", "we have instructed the Master not to do it again", "the spare part has been ordered", etc.
In order to indicate that you have an effective system in place it is necessary to address the deficiency within the ISM system, for example by identifying the non-conformity, establishing the root cause and implementing an effective corrective action as well as necessary changes to existing procedures. The deficiency then becomes effectively closed out.
It is not sufficient to say that the deficiency has been fixed, you need to explain that the problem that caused the deficiency is also fixed.
The screening process
Having been through all the items mentioned so far this is still not the end of the process. It is also important that comments made are consistent with comments made on similar observations on previous inspections.
The charterer will also assess and review many other aspects of your operation, such as:
- Other vessels in your fleet
- The vessel's incident history
- Feedback from the charterer's terminals
- The quality of the owner detention history
- Any previous problems with clearance of the vessel
- Inspection history of the vessel
- The age of the vessel, crew quality and the management system in place
- CAP (Condition Assessment Programme)) rating, fatigue analyses (if appropriate)
- The vessels flag, classification society, PSC blacklisting