New regulation introduced regarding safe under keel clearance
The Parana River, which flows through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, is South America’s second-longest river and renowned for its strong current and shallow waters. Pilotage is compulsory for over 400 kilometres of the waterway and regarded as a public service. However, this service has been undertaken by private companies since the 1990s.
While the risk of damage to vessels running aground on the riverbed is minimal, the navigation channel may be closed if this happens, thus delaying vessels and causing serious congestion risks. This situation is aggravated by El Nino – the warm phase of the El Nino southern oscillation weather system – which affects the area. During the first half of 2016, the river’s water level was unusually high due to heavy rain. This minimised the risk of vessels running aground, as the waterway was significantly deeper. However, when the weather cycle changes to its cold phase, La Nina, there is less rainfall and the river’s water level decreases. As a result, navigating the Parana becomes more challenging.
According to National Maritime Authority Regulation 028/2007, the coastguard recommends that ships sailing from Puerto General San Martin or San Lorenzo to Recalada anchorage have no more than 10.36 metres of draught (ie, a loaded vessel’s depth from the waterline to its keel’s lowest point). Further, for vessels with a draught between 10.36 metres and 10.67 metres, a 0.60 metre minimum safety margin under the keel was established, plus an additional increase equivalent to the number of centimetres exceeding 10.36 metres. The regulation also posits that there must be a 0.91 metre safety margin under the keel for vessels with a draught deeper than 10.67 metres.
Regulation 027/2016, which will enter into force on November 25 2016, establishes an additional increase of 0.60m as a minimum safety margin under the keel for vessels with a draught deeper than 10.36 metres. Further, Article 2 of the regulation introduces the following restrictions depending on a vessel’s destination:
- For vessels sailing from San Lorenzo to Parana de las Palmas:
- the safe under keel clearance has been increased to three centimetres per each additional centimetre where the draught is equal to or deeper than 10.37 metres and up to 10.49 metres; and
- the safe under keel clearance has been increased by 10% with regard to the static ship draught where the draught is equal to or deeper than 10.50 metres.
- For vessels sailing from Parana de la Palmas to Recalada:
- the under keel clearance has been increased to 1.5 centimetres per each additional centimetre where the draught is equal to or deeper than 10.37 metres and up to 10.67 metres; and
- the under keel clearance has been increased by 10% with regard to the static ship draught where the draught is equal to or deeper than 10.68 metres.
In both cases, thousandths will be rounded to the nearest whole hundredth. If the number ends in five or more it will be rounded upwards; whereas, if it is four or less it will be rounded downwards.
Regulation 027/2016 introduces new rules governing safe under keel clearance. Further improvements are expected based on safety concerns, as the regulation is the result of the well-known friction between the pilotage industry and the government over the latter’s aim to reduce pilots’ fees in Argentina, which are the most expensive in the world.
In this sense, the new regulation has been enacted for a limited time (90 days) and invites all parties involved to suggest further amendments.