Completion of Documentation
Once calculation of the ship’s figures has been completed, the shore installation will provide a shore figure. It is generally this figure that is used on the B/L. It is most unlikely that the two figures will precisely coincide, although in practice, and in the vast majority of cases, the discrepancy is small and of no great significance. The Master should have no difficulty in reconciling the figures nor in signing the B/Ls. In each case, the gross figures should be compared and the ship’s experience factor should also be taken into consideration.
When checking the shore figures, difficulties may arise because the measurements taken in the shore tanks before loading cannot be verified once the cargo has been transferred. Checking of the shore figures may, therefore, depend upon the accuracy of the records kept at the shore terminal. In the majority of cases, this investigation is likely to be successful and the figures will be corrected and easily reconciled. The reasons for gross inaccuracies may include :
- Ullages incorrectly measured.
- tanks filled but not taken into account.
- the contents of pipelines not allowed for.
- incorrect temperatures or densities.
- cargo mistakenly loaded on top of ballast.
- cargo lost in the shore installation.
- incorrect meter proving.
On occasions, despite such exhaustive checks, it may be that the two calculations cannot be reconciled and the Master then finds himself in a dilemma. The Hague-Visby Rules provide :
“No Carrier, Master or Agent of the Carrier shall be bound to state or show in the bill of lading any marks, number, quantity or weight which he has reasonable ground for suspecting not accurately to represent the goods actually received for which he has had no reasonable means of checking.” (Reference 29).
However, the Master will be conscious of the commercial pressures, which dictate that the berth must be vacated and that the voyage must not be delayed. There is no inflexible rule to be followed that will apply in every case. The Master should note protest, notifying the ship’s agents and instructing them to urgently inform the owners of the problem as well as the charterers, the shippers and any consignee or notify party named on the B/L. The Master should give full details of the available figures and ask the parties notified to inform any potential purchaser of the B/L of the discrepancy. It may be difficult for the Master to contact all the parties named, but the owner should do this at the earliest opportunity. Ideally, the Master should be able to clause the B/L, but in practice this creates many difficulties.
Early Departure Procedures
In certain busy oil ports, it is the practice, in the interests of expediting the turn around of tankers, to offer the Master the opportunity to utilise the early departure procedure. This system was devised in the light of many years’ experience of tanker operations and shore figures after loading. On arrival at the loading berth, the Master agrees that, on completion of loading, the loading hoses will be immediately disconnected and the ship will sail. As soon as the B/L figures are prepared, they are cabled to the Master who then, provided he is satisfied, authorises the agent to sign the B/L and other related documents on his behalf. On no account should the Master sign the B/L himself before sailing without the correct figures already being inserted.
It is essential for the defence of possible cargo claims that the ship maintains certain documentary records of cargo operations. Time charterers, particularly the oil majors, are likely to place their own documentation on board, which they will require to be returned promptly at the end of each voyage. Typical returns would include :
- A voyage abstract (deck and engine).
- notice of readiness (NOR).
- a port log.
- pumping/loading records.
- stowage plan.
- loading and discharge port calculations.
- details of any cargo transfers.
They may also include records of all oil transfers, whether loading, discharging or internal and including bunkering operations. Such records will assist not only with the defence of shortage and contamination claims, but also with the handling of other possible disputes including performance claims and demurrage and dispatch disputes.
During the Voyage
Provided the ship’s fittings are properly maintained, the cargo will require little attention during the voyage unless heating is required. In such cases, it is important to follow the charterers’ instructions, particularly bearing in mind the specifications of the cargo carried. In some cases, failure to heat the cargo properly may lead to severe difficulties. When crudes that require heating are carried, particularly those with a high wax content, it is important that the charterers provide clear instructions for heating both on the voyage and throughout discharge. Often, heating instructions are not sufficiently precise, with the charterers relying on the experience of the Master. Usually, it is wise to heat early in the voyage to maintain the temperature rather than being obliged to raise the temperature of the cargo significantly at the end of the voyage. If there is doubt about the heating instructions, the Master should check with the charterers. The tank temperatures should be recorded twice daily.
Finally, there should be no necessity to transfer cargo between cargo tanks during the voyage, which would create differences between ullages and soundings taken before and after the voyage and invariably lead to disputes when defending shortage claims. Ideally, the two sets of readings should not differ to any degree. Owners should discourage the practice and insist that any transfers that the Master considers urgent and essential be reported and properly recorded in the oil record book. Many charterparties require the Master to notify the charterers of any cargo transfers.
Before Arrival at the Discharge Port
A proper discharging plan should be prepared, taking into account any restrictions or requirements. It must include a careful check of not only the trim condition during discharge, but also of the stress conditions. Care should be taken to ensure that the parameters laid down by the shipbuilders are adhered to. It is also important to take into account the required discharging temperature and the need to maintain this temperature throughout the discharge. When discharging in ports where low sea temperatures prevail, this may require considerable vigilance. In tankers fitted with inert gas and COW, it should be ensured in advance that the systems are fully operational in readiness for the forthcoming discharge.
On Arrival at the Discharge Port
On completion of the arrival formalities, the need to communicate with representatives of the discharging facility is no less important than at the load port. Full liaison should include the exchange of all relevant information about the cargo, including the maximum discharge rates, the discharge plan, safety procedures, shutdown procedures, scheduled shore stops and any local regulations.
As in the load port, the measurement of the cargo is undertaken in the presence of the cargo receivers and possibly other interested parties or their surveyors and including customs authorities. The remarks on cargo measurement apply equally in this instance. The utmost care should be taken in checking and double-checking the measurements. The measurement of temperature merits particular care, particularly where heated cargoes are concerned. Again, it is stressed that apparently small discrepancies in temperature can lead to significant differences in the final calculations and the temptation to ‘round off’ temperatures or to use convenient averages should be discouraged. It is essential to note the ship’s trim and list at the time of ullaging – the ideal trim is with the ship on an even keel and with no list. When sampling cargo before discharge, and particularly in the case of heated cargoes, samples should be taken from the top, middle and bottom of the cargo tank.
On completion of cargo measurement, a comparison should immediately be made with the loading ullages, tank by tank, to see whether there have been any appreciable changes since leaving the load port. Should any differences be noted, the reasons should be immediately investigated and fully recorded. The ship’s responsibility should begin and end at the fixed manifold and the owners have no liability for measurements taken once the cargo has entered the piping that forms the receiving terminal. Claims are frequently presented on the basis of shore figures that are inaccurate and the most effective and economical way of reducing liability may be to recalculate these figures correctly. It would be beneficial for a surveyor representing the shipowner to check the shore reception facility, where it may be possible to witness the taking of shore measurements. They may also be able to check the pipeline system to verify its size and length and the method by which its contents are ascertained before and after discharge, noting whether any valves that lead off the pipelines are in use. Some shore facilities are reluctant to allow ship’s representatives to make full checks in their terminals. If an inspection of the terminal or its operations is refused, this should be recorded.
Once the necessary preparations have been completed aboard the ship, and the shore installation has confirmed that the discharge can commence, the cargo pumps are started in sequence. Where one or more grades of cargo are carried, it may be possible to discharge each grade simultaneously, subject to stress and trim considerations and any other restricting factors such as the design of the ship’s pipeline system. Once it has been established that the cargo is flowing correctly, the discharge rate should be increased to the agreed maximum. The rate may be restricted either by back pressure or by the capacity of the ship’s pumps. The rate of discharge should be carefully monitored throughout and recorded at intervals of no more than one hour. These records should show not only the amount of cargo discharged by volume, but also the shore back pressure, the pressure at the ship’s manifold, the speed of the cargo pumps and steam pressure or, in the case of electrical pumps, the amperage. The unloading rate should be compared hourly with the shore tank reception rates, where available, to help ensure that the cargo is not being misdirected in the receiving terminal. If COW is being carried out, this operation must be closely monitored. Careful recording of the discharge in the ship’s logs is essential if claims are to be successfully defended.
Provided the ship has a good stern trim, the tanks have been well cleaned and prepared prior to loading and the ship’s pumps and pipelines are in sound condition, it should be possible to ensure that only a negligible quantity is left on board. Light or clean products should present no problem, although where heavier or heated cargoes are concerned there will inevitably be some clingage and perhaps some sediment remaining. COW will help to reduce these quantities and care should be exercised when stripping heated cargoes to ensure that the tanks are drained quickly as, once the level of the cargo falls below the heating coils, heat will be lost quickly and difficulties may be
encountered. Whatever type of oil is carried, it will be necessary to be able to demonstrate that ship’s valves, lines and pumps were in good condition at the time of discharge because this has an impact on the question of ‘pumpability’. From the point of view of cargo claims, it must be considered whether, even if the cargo was liquid, it could be pumped by the vessel’s equipment. It is possible that small quantities of oil, particularly where high gas cargoes are concerned, cannot be picked up by the pumps without the pumps gassing up. It could be that, due to sediments from the cargo or shore restrictions on trim, the oil is liquid but cannot run to the suction (see Section 17.6.6). If pressure is applied to the ship to sail before the surveyor can attend, the Master should protest to the receivers and to the receivers’ surveyor. If the surveyors are not prepared to certify cargo remaining on board as unpumpable, they should be invited to inspect the ship’s pumps. The receivers should be informed that, if they consider the cargo to be pumpable, the ship is prepared to continue to attempt to pump it until the Club surveyor arrives. Owners should ensure that the maintenance records for the cargo pumps are carefully preserved and that they are available should such disputes arise. Surveyors who certify cargo as pumpable may be required to prove that they have tested the nature of the cargo and have ascertained that it can and does reach the suction in the cargo tank.
ROB claims may, therefore, arise in three different ways :
- By loss of heating or inadequate heating on board ships, sometimes coupled with low ambient temperatures at the time of discharge.
- by the physical properties of the oil and the ability of the pumps to pump it. The possibility of pumps gassing up and loss of suction must be taken into consideration.
- by cargo sediments or trim restrictions that prevent the free flow of oil to the tank suction.
In the case of a crude that does not require heating, or that has a high vapour pressure, good COW and a good stern trim will overcome most problems. Frequently, the charterparty will call for COW ‘in accordance with MARPOL’ and will allow additional time for discharge when COW is performed. If the receiving installation will not allow satisfactory stern trim, or if they refuse COW either in whole or in part, the Master should protest to the terminal and to the charterers, stating that the vessel cannot be held responsible for any resulting cargo losses.
On Completion of Discharge
When the cargo has been completely discharged, with all tanks and pipelines well drained, the cargo system should be shut down and all tank valves closed. A final tank inspection is then carried out and, inevitably, particular attention will be paid by the shore representatives to any cargo remaining on board. All void spaces, including ballast tanks and cofferdams, should be checked to ensure that no leakage of cargo has occurred.
Dry Tank Certificate
After discharge, a dry tank certificate should be issued, signed by an appropriate shore representative, describing any remaining cargo as ‘unpumpable’ and carrying an endorsement that the ship’s equipment was in good working condition. In many places, shore cargo inspectors are reluctant to describe oil as ‘unpumpable’ and may prefer to use the terms ‘liquid/nonliquid’. This is not satisfactory and should be avoided if at all possible because it leaves cargo owners in a position to claim pumpability and to attempt to activate a charterparty retention clause, albeit unlawfully, if the clause requires the cargo to be pumpable.