Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Court Judgement Highlights Requirement for Cargo Vessels to Remain Seaworthy

Definition Goes Beyond the Obvious
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – A piece written by Robert Shearer for the P&I insurance group the Shipowners' Club this month gives both an interesting insight, and a sharp reminder, of the manifold factors which can see a vessel defined as 'unseaworthy'. The item centres on the case in which, almost exactly eight years ago, the container ship CMA CGM Libra grounded whilst leaving the Port of Xiamen in China after leaving the designated fairway.

The piece gives full details, but to precis the situation, the master was unaware that recent notices to mariners gave warnings about uncharted shallows and, with General Average declared, the whole sorry mess ended in the Admiralty Court in March 2019, which found against the shipping company and supported the cargo owners claim.

What is however made additionally clear is exactly what constitutes an unseaworthy vessel, and the article points out nine of the many factors which can drag a ship into this unwanted category, with its relevance to owners and operators of merchant vessels.

These include lack of maintenance, defects to structure and engines, lack of spares, incorrect or missing navigation documents and out of date Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) and lack of notices to mariners. Where crew are concerned, poor living conditions, lack of rest, insufficient training and the physical and mental capacity of seafarers are all things which, if deficient, can make it illegal to operate the ship at sea.

The list of course does not stop here, if cargo is carried, proper stowage and securing of freight is a prerequisite, as is the condition and care of specific cargoes, meaning clean and suitable holds, no infestations, lack of working pumps etc.

It seems incredible in this day and age that any vessel plying a route for profit should not meet all of the above, and more criteria with the owner/operator exercising due diligence with regards to the safety of the crew, vessel, cargo and environment. However some of the cases we have highlighted recently bear witness to the fact that the issue of unseaworthiness is one very much with us in the 21st century.

Photo: 17 May 2011, the CMA CGM Libra lists as she remains grounded in the unsuspected shallows.