Hatchway is the hole through which the cargo is loaded into the ship. Traditionally this hole has been a source of weakness in the structure, but modern technology has provided large steel hatch covers that can slide back into place at the flick of a lever. Ships with these are allowed to load deeper than the older types covered only by wooden boards and canvas. There are many different types and designs of steel hatch covers.
The first seems to have appeared around 1937, and 1949 saw the introduction of the ‘single pull’ hatch cover which by 1955 had established itself as the standard hatchway for most new general-cargo tonnage. The year 1952 saw the introduction of flush-fitting hatchways in between decks, and in 1959 side-rolling covers were introduced for bulk carriers. Because of these developments, the hatchway can be made much larger and this means the cargo can be dropped into position.
If the hatchway is small the cargo has to be carried or dragged into position at the sides of the ship. This takes time and costs money. It could be argued that the large ‘open’ hatchway is the basis of virtually all the major developments in improving ship productivity since the Second World War. Some modern ships have large hydraulically operated doors in the side of the ship through which the forklift truck can drive and stow the cargo directly.
Macgregor Hatch Cover:
Most bulk carrier ships are fitted with steel hatch covers of what is known as Macgregor Type Hatch Cover. Macgregor’s being an organization that pioneered and patented hatch cover designs in the period following World War II, and which still plays an important role in the design of cargo-handling equipment. Macgregor Type Hatch Covers open and closes with a concertina like the action but other types are also commonly encountered. Some other hatch cover types roll either to the end of the hatch or on large bulk carriers to the side where they provide some protection for personnel working on the deck during loading or discharging operations. Some bulk carrier ships have piggy-back hatches where the covers stack on top of one another and for container ships, pontoon hatches, which are lifted on and off using similar fitting as found on the containers, are most commonly used.
Most hatch covers are opened and closed by electric or hydraulic power and some by winches and chains. They are relatively labor-free but, like derricks and cranes, are subject to stringent testing by Classification Societies to ensure that they remain safe and watertight. Cargo damage by moisture may well be found to result from water ingress through hatch covers and, as with cargo-handling equipment, Charter Party clauses usually stipulate that shipowners will maintain hatch covers in an efficient, watertight condition. Depending upon the design of the ship, tween-decks and cargo hold may be served by one or more hatchways.