Published: 1 August 2014

On completion of discharge of dry bulk cargoes there are often allegations of shortlanding, the discharge port draught survey showing a substantially different cargo quantity than that at load port so that part of the cargo appears to have gone missing during the voyage. The resultant claims are accompanied by financial penalties or fines imposed by customs authorities.

Clean mates receipts, load and discharge port tallies, shore scale figures and discharge port preliminary, interim and final draught surveys are not always sufficient to protect shipowners’ interests.
Three recent examples serve to highlight the usefulness of keeping detailed bilge cleaning, monitoring and pumping records throughout a voyage and how, despite the utmost vigilance, owners remains exposed to frivolous claims from persistent cargo interests.

In the first example our Member loaded a cargo of sinter feed for a trans-pacific voyage to China. The quantity of cargo on loading was measured by shore scale and recorded in the bill of lading. A loadport draught survey was performed. On arrival at the lightering port and later the final discharge port the quantity of cargo discharged was measured by draft surveys. At final discharge port, the shore-side surveyor recorded in his survey report the total quantities recorded daily in the bilge pumping logs during the voyage. The discharge survey report showed that the ship discharged the amount shown in the bill of lading once the bilge quantities lost during the voyage were accounted for. The survey report was accepted by the receivers and the ship departed without delay. It was not until almost 10 months later that the receivers’ insurers sought to bring a subrogated claim under the bill of lading for shortlanding. Despite being provided with a copy of the bilge pumping records and the discharge draught survey report verifying the bilge pumping records a Court action has been commenced which included the threat of arrest and provision of Club security. Despite provision of all available evidence to cargo insurers proceedings were commenced in China. The bilge records are likely to be crucial evidence in those proceedings.

The second example involved a cargo of petcoke loaded on the east coast USA for a voyage to Gangavaram Port in India. About 15 days into the laden voyage charterers advised owners that they required daily updates on the quantity pumped from the bilges together with quantities pumped to date in order to avoid customs fines at the discharge port in respect of shortlanding differences which had been capped by Indian customs at 1%. Daily logs were to be produced at the discharge port failing which owners would be held responsible. The bilge records at that stage showed that the bilge water discharge was close to 10% of the weight as loaded, thus exposing owners to substantial liabilities if detailed and accurate records were not kept of all bilge pumping and the ship could not show that any bilge pumping was as a result of drainage from the cargo.

After taking advice from our Indian correspondent we were informed that unless certified verification that the water collected in the bilges is actually from the cargo, is filed with the Ministry the bilge pumping records will not be accepted to avoid customs penalties on shortage quantity provisions under the Indian Customs Act 1962.

We therefore recommended to our Members that they appoint a surveyor at discharge port to ensure that the bilge pumping records were properly preserved and taken into account when calculating discharge quantities. Fortunately this recommendation was acted upon by Members and the ship sailed from the discharge port without delay.

In our final example our Member loaded a cargo of prilled sulphur from the USA to a Moroccan port. At the time of loading there was heavy rain (the cargo condition is not affected by rain) and the amount of water accumulating in the bilge wells exceeded their capacity. Thorough bilge records were kept with the assistance of a surveyor at load port. On completing the load port draught survey the surveyor was diligent in recording the accumulation of water and the Master and crew continued with that process all during the voyage, keeping meticulous records for use in the event of a shortlanding claim at discharge port. Again, recommendations were made and acted upon by Members to appoint a surveyor at discharge port. As result of this diligence there were no claims bought at the discharge port, the ship completed discharge and departed without delay.

All three examples included a discharge port survey report that took into account the accurately recorded bilge pumping during the voyage and simply illustrates the importance of keeping meticulous bilge pumping records.