Ship Grounding – Why does a ship run aground?

Ship Grounding

A marine accident has various types and one such type is ship grounding. The depth of sea varies from port to port. Not all the ports can allow ships of all sizes to enter. Bigger a ship, higher the difficulty in docking it to a port. For e.g. take New York , one of the busiest port has such a low draft that VLCCs and ships with higher tonnage cannot enter the port. Sometimes even if the port is capable of receiving large vessels with higher draft, unnoticeable silt and mud gets accumulated near the ports, reducing the draft. Thus a ship with higher draft when enters such port gets stranded due to the chocked draft.Grounding is also caused due to rotational tides. There are many ports around the world that allow ships to enter only during high tides due to the problem of draft. An unpredictable change in tides,when the ship is docked at a port, can lead to grounding of the ship.

grounded at harbour

Impact on the ship

Ship grounding leads tp the impact of the bottom part of a ship onto the ocean bed, resulting in damage to the ship structure. A ship grounding can be of two types – Soft grounding and Wallop Grounding.

A soft grounding does not lead to adverse effects on a ship. But this doesn’t mean it has to be completely neglected. Proper inspection needs to be made as soon as the ship reaches the nearest port. In case there is a doubt about the condition of the ship, it should be prevented from sailing till a thorough inspection is not carried out by the experts or a classification society.

On the contrary, wallop grounding can lead to heavy damage to the hull and submerged part of the ship.This might lead to serious cracks in the ship structure, resulting in water ingress followed by serious damage of the ship’s structural integrity and causing major instability. A heavy impact can induce atypical structural stresses and heavy loads on the ship, which can lead to a major accident.

Sometimes due to wallop grounding, the ship might completely lose its balance and become unstable, leading to ship capsize.

grounding capsizejpg

Effects of Grounding

If the grounding has resulted into a major marine accident, it can have outstanding adverse effects on both- the ship and the environment. Apart from the damage to the ship, grounding causes following effects:

  • If grounding has lead to a crack in the cargo hold of the ship(e.g. tankers), the cargo might find a way into the sea leading to heavy marine pollution and thus causing detrimental effects on the environment and marine life.
  • If the situation becomes grave and uncontrollable, it might lead to loss of human life.
  • The coastal areas near the accident area will be drastically affected by the leaked cargo.
  • Heavy financial loss will be incurred by the ship owner and communities near the accident area.

What leads to grounding?

Human error has been the cause of most of the grounding accidents in the past. An insufficient or improper information of the port or the navigational water ways has be the main cause of grounding accidents. Sheer maneuvering negligence and improper retaliations at the time of grounding has been the root cause of major accidents. Depending on the way the ship was being maneuvered before it was grounded will decide how the ship will be stranded after the grounding.

Sometimes unknown rocks and coral reefs in the navigational waters have also been the result for grounding. Grounding events in the past have caused heavy damage to the coral reefs.


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