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Piers and Marine Structures

  1. Why is sulphate-resisting cement not used in marine concrete?


The main components of Portland cement are tricalcium silicate, dicalcium silicate, tricalcium aluminate and tetracalcium aluminoferrite. In sulphate-resisting cement, it contains a low amount of tricalcium aluminate in order to avoid sulphate attack. Otherwise, tricalcium aluminate would react with sulphates to form calcium sulphoaluminate and gypsum that cause expansion and crack the concrete structure.


However, for marine concrete sulphate-resisting cement should not be used because tricalcium aluminate has high affinity for chloride ions. This is based on the possible reaction of chloride ions and tricalcium aluminate to form calcium chloroaluminate hydrate as suggested by P. Kumar Mehta (1991) and the reduction of which may increase the rate of chloride attack to the concrete marine structure and result in faster corrosion of steel reinforcement in marine structures.


  1. Shall a layer of wearing course or additional thickness be designed on the surface of piers?


In the design of piers, consideration should be given to the effect of wearing action caused by passengers, other traffics and even sometimes vehicles. In maritime environment, the durability and integrity of concrete is detrimental to the servicing life of piers because it acts an essential barrier to chloride attack. However, in view of these gradual wear and tear generated by the loading traffic, some forms of surface protection should be provided on top of pier surface like wearing course or additional increase in concrete cover.


3.What is the difference in application of surface-protecting fenders and energy-absorbing fenders?


Surface-protecting fenders are fenders that induce high reaction forces to berthing structures for the energy absorbed while energy-absorbing fenders are fenders which transmit low impact to berthing structures for the energy absorbed (Carl A. Thoresen (1988)). In fact, the principal function of fenders is to absorb the berthing energy and transmit a force to the structures without damaging them. Therefore, in open berth structures, it is desirable to use energy-absorbing fenders to reduce the loads acting on the relatively flexible structures. On the other hand, for solid berth structures the usage of surface-protecting fenders is adequate because they are capable of taking up large berthing loads.


  1. Should dolphins be designed in a rigid manner, i.e. resting on several raking piles?


In designing dolphins, they are normally supported on a system of three to four raking piles. This in essence is a rigid structure and exhibits little flexibility e.g. movement against impact and berthing loads by vessels. In fact, this kind of design may not be desirable in terms of maintenance because the dolphins are readily susceptible to damage by high berthing vessels. To rectify this situation, some energy absorption devices like rubber/plastic fenders have to be installed to reduce the impact load deriving from its own deflection. On the other hand, by designing dolphins as flexible structures capable for allowing slight deflection, it helps to reduce the large forces generated during berthing of





vessels. In this connection, one way of designing dolphins as flexible structures is by provision of a single pile only.


Note: For a rigid structure, it takes up external loads without undergoing excessive deformations.


  1. In connecting fenders to pier structures, should single lock nuts or double lock nuts be used?


In many pier structures the connection of fenders to piers is achieved by using single lock nuts. However, they do not perform well because some timber fenders loosen more easily when subject to vibrating loads due to berthing, wave and tidal actions. To solve this problem, double lock nuts should be adopted as they prove to function satisfactory in other structural elements which are subject to frequent vibration loads.


Note: Double lock nuts mean two nuts are adopted in a single bolt connection between fenders and marine structures.


  1. What is the design level of landings in piers?


Landings are designed as resting place for passengers during berthing and deberthing of vessels. In general, landings are provided near mean high and mean low water levels to facilitate embarking and disembarking of passengers (BS6349: Part 2: 1988). Therefore, the level of landing steps should be different from place to place because of different mean high and mean low water levels in different locations.


  1. What are the pros and cons of using timber fenders, plastic fenders and rubber fenders?


Timber fenders:


They are low in strength and are subject to rotting and marine borer attack. Moreover, they have low energy absorption capacity and the berthing reaction depends on the point of contact. The contact pressure between fender and vessels are high. They are considered to be environmentally unfriendly because they consume tropical hardwoods in their production.


Plastic fenders:


Their strength is similar to that of timber fenders but they have relatively high abrasive resistance. They are resistant to chemical and biological attack. Their energy absorption capacities are moderate and the berthing reactions are also dependent on the point of contact. The reaction is lower when compared with timber fenders for a given energy absorption. They are considered to be environmental friendly because they are manufactured from recycled material.


Rubber fenders:


They possess high abrasive resistance and are also resistant to most biological and chemical attacks. They have moderate to high energy absorption capacity and the energy absorption performance is independent of the point of contact. Similar to plastic fenders, they are also environmental friendly products.


  1. Why are most marine piles circular in cross section?






For marine piles, there are several options available for selection, namely H-piles, circular pipes and box piles.


However, only circular piles and box piles are suitable for marine application because of the following two reasons suggested by G. M. Cornfield (1968):


  • Circular piles and box piles possess high column buckling strength. For marine structures like jetties, piles are well above seabed level and therefore the column buckling effect is significant when compared with other structures. Therefore, it is essential to use pile sections which have relatively high buckling strength in piers.


  • Circular piles and box piles display high energy absorbing capability. For marine structures like dolphins and fenders, which require substantial amount of berthing energy to be absorbed, these piles sections are inevitably good choices.


In marine structures, it appears that circular sections prevail over the box sections. The main reason is that the range of section available for selection of circular piles is more than that of box piles.


  1. For marine pile type of steel tubular piles with reinforced concrete infill, minimum toe level is often specified in contract drawings. What is its purpose?


The purpose of minimum toe level is two-fold:


  • In detailed design stage, ground investigation should be conducted and the approximate level of rockhead is known. Therefore, to avoid the marine piles to be founded prematurely on boulders, minimum toe levels of marine driven piles are specified in contract.


  • It provides sufficient length of soils for lateral and uplift resistance.


Note: Minimum toe level refers to the minimum level that a marine driven pile should be driven into seabed.


  1. What is the problem in traditional marine piling system of steel tubular pile with concrete infill and what are the possible remedial measures?


In the design of marine piles of steel tubular piles with concrete infill, loads from pier deck are taken up by steel tubular piles before the occurrence of corrosion of steel piles above seabed. In fact, it is assumed that steel piles above seabed level will all be corroded after a certain year. The load transfer mechanism after complete corrosion of steel pile above seabed is as follows: loads from pier deck are taken up by concrete infill above the seabed level. Below the seabed level, loads would be transferred to steel piles through frictional forces between concrete infill and steel casings.


However, substantial radial shrinkage and contraction occurs after concreting of concrete infill and this will hinder the load transfer from the concrete infill to steel piles because the bond may be ruptured by radial shrinkage. It is in doubt if frictional forces can be properly developed in this situation. To solve this problem, shear keys could be installed at regular spacing inside steel piles to ensure their rigid connection with concrete infill. Alternatively, expanding agents may be adopted in concrete mixes to ensure that there is no shrinkage after the concreting process.


  1. Why are steel tubular marine piles often driven open-ended?








In marine structures where piles are constantly subject to significant lateral and uplift forces induced by berthing operation and wave action, it is necessary to drive the piles to much greater depth. To avoid premature refusal so that insufficient soil cover may develop which is incapable of providing the required lateral and uplift resistance, tubular piles are normally driven open-ended so that they are driving to greater depths than piles with closed ends.



  1. For typical pile bents in marine piers, how is vertical loads related to horizontal capacity of the pile bents?


Let’s consider a pile bent with a top slab supported by two ranking piles, each inclining at an equal angle to the pier slab. In designing such a system, truss action is normally adopted to analyze the pile bent. When the reaction forces of these piles, horizontal forces (e.g. due to berthing and deberthing of vessels) and vertical forces (e.g. superimposed deck loads) are analyzed by drawing a force polygon, it is noted that lateral resistance of the pile bent is dependent on the vertical load, i.e. lateral resistance is small when vertical loads are high.





  1. For underwater concreting, tremie pipes are normally used with the aid of hoppers. Sometimes tubes are inserted inside the hoppers. Why?


In placing concrete by tremie pipes, hoppers are connected to their top for receiving freshly placed concrete. However, air may be trapped inside the tremie pipes if there is rapid feeding of fresh concrete. To release the trapped air inside the tremie pipes, hoses (called ventilation tubes) are inserted and lowered down through the hoppers. Reference is made to Carl A. Thoresen (1988).


  1. Why is shallow bedrock condition unfavorable for open berth piers?


The most severe load on piers generally is the horizontal load due to berthing of large vessels. Since the widths of open berth piers are relatively small so that they provides a short lever arm to counteract the moment induced by berthing loads. Moreover, the dead load of open berth piers are normally quite light and therefore the resisting moment provided by the dead load of pier structures may not be sufficient to counteract the moment generated by berthing loads.


To aid in providing adequate resistance to the overturning moment by the berthing load, the soil resistance above bedrock contributes to stabilizing moment. For commonly adopted marine piling type, i.e. driven steel tubular piles with reinforced concrete infill, driven piles can at most be founded on top of rockhead surface. In case the rockhead level is shallow, then the little soil cover may result in insufficient lateral resistance to the berthing load.


  1. Why are high and narrow beams not desirable in concrete piers?


Based on past experience in other countries (Carl A. Thoresen (1988)), high and narrow beams after several years of construction showed signs of serious deterioration at the bottom of the beams. However, the deterioration of pier slabs was not significant when compared with that of the deep beams. The main reason to account for this is due to the close proximity of the deep beams to the sea level. To avoid these problems, either beamless slab or wide with shallow beams are normally designed.


16.What is the mechanism of formation of soil plugs in marine driven steel piles with reinforced concrete infill?


During initial driving process, open-ended steel piles are driven through the soils at their bases. However, shaft friction will gradually develop between the steel piles and soils inside piles at some time after pile driving. The hitting action of driving hammers induces forces to the soil and later it comes to a stage when the inertial forces of inside soils, together with the internal frictional forces exceeding the bearing capacity of soils at pile toes. Consequently, the soil plug formed is brought down by the piles. Reference is made to M. J. Tomlinson (1977).


Note: A soil plug is a column of soil formed at the bottom portion of marine pile type of steel tubular piles with reinforced concrete infill.


  1. Should stiff or soft fenders be designed for berthing in piers?

The elasticity of fenders is related to the ability to release the stored energy during berthing of vessels. However, it has no effect on the reaction force and the deflection of fender system. The amount of energy that a fender can absorb is dependent on the reaction-deflection curve and is represented by the area under the curve. The higher is the reaction force, the higher amount of energy would be absorbed by the fender provided that the resistance of ships’ hull is sufficient to withstand the force without permanent deformations. Although stiff and soft fender may have the same deflection under the same maximum reaction force acting on the berthing vessel, the amount of energy absorbed by stiff fenders is much higher than that of soft fenders. Consequently, stiff fenders should be employed for berthing purpose.


On the other hand, in mooring operations where vessels are constantly subject to wave action, it is desirable to keep the tension force on the rope to a low value. In this connection, it is recommended to use soft fenders.


  1. What is the significance of direction of approaching velocities of ships during berthing operation?


One of the major effects of angle of approaching velocities of ships is its influence of the energy to be absorbed by the fender system. Consider several ships berth on the same pier at the same speed but with different angle of approach, though their kinetic energies are the same, the amount of energy absorbed by fender differs. The amount of energy absorbed by fender is:


W = 0.5mv2 (k2+r2cos2Φ)/ (k2+r2)


where      W= energy absorbed by the fender

m= mass of the ship

v=velocity of the ship

k= radius of gyration of the ship

r= distance of centre of gravity of the ship to the point of contact of the fender

Φ=direction of velocity


Hence, when the direction of approaching velocity of a ship is normal to the fender system (i.e. Φ=90), the amount of energy absorbed is smaller when compared with that of a ship whose velocity is tangential to the shoreline. Reference is made to F. Vasco Costa (1964).

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One comment

  1. Thanks for this interesting article for marine structures. I had no idea that circular piles could have a high column buckling strength. I’m kind of interested to learn if this strength would increase depending on how large the piles are.

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