December 5, 2014 / 9:40 AM / 3 years ago

Canadian shipping watchdog warns on Chinese-made cranes

TORONTO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada's Transportation Safety Board took the unusual step of warning about a possible defect in a widely used Chinese-made ship cargo crane after a worker was injured in Quebec.

Tests are still being done, but the federal watchdog issued the warning because it believes many similar cranes are in use. The TSB is not aware of any other incidents and does not know exactly which cranes could be vulnerable.

"We felt that we had to send this information as widely as we could and as fast as we could," TSB investigator François Dumont told Reuters.

In August, a crane on a bulk carrier in Bécancour, Quebec collapsed after a slewing ring bearing fractured. Its cab was partially crushed and the operator injured.

The crane was made for Japan's Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co Ltd, now IHI Corp, by China's Wuhan Marine Machinery Plant Co Ltd, a subsidiary of China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, one of the country's two largest state-owned shipbuilding groups.

The Canadian investigation is focused on the bearing and whether there was a fabrication failure, Dumont said. It is being examined at a lab in Ottawa. The bearing was made by China's Dalian Metallurgical Bearing Co Ltd.

IHI, Wuhan Marine Machinery and Dalian could not immediately comment.

The ship is one of 443 built at shipyards across China between 2008 and 2014 based on a single set of plans, said Dumont. Each has four cranes.

Dumont said investigators believe that all the ships may have the same bearing and the TSB is liaising with ship owners and manufacturers, who do have that information.

A Wuhan Marine Machinery representative is among several outside experts observing the Ottawa tests.

The collapse of cranes fitted on ships has been a longstanding problem, said Michael Grey, a master mariner and journalist who campaigns on ship safety issues.

"The lack of maintenance is generally to blame," said Grey, adding that cranes are exposed during voyages and difficult to access.

But Canadian investigators do not believe poor maintenance was a factor in Quebec. Dumont said the crane was maintained and operated properly and inspected regularly.

A final TSB report is expected in the first half of 2015.

Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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