Techniques for carrying out ship-to-ship cargo transfers and the risks involved were thoroughly aired at a London Shipping Law centre seminar on Monday, June 8th.The session, attended by 80 delegates was supported by 7 King’s Bench Walk and hosted by Squire Patton Boggs at their London offices.
Captain Herbie Battye of Herbiemarine Ltd explained that the problems of ship-to-ship transfers had been around for a very long time. However, the scale of operation and attendant risks had accelerated in the 1970s with crude oil cargoes being pumped between VLCCs.
With double hulls, risks were reduced but the main ones remained contact between the transferring vessels, collision with passing traffic and pollution resulting from cargo release into the immediate environment. No matter how good the mooring and hose equipment, both were especially vulnerable during operation.
It was essential, therefore, that a plan for transfer be agreed between all parties: charterer, cargo owner, both ship owners and ships’ crews, transfer service providers and port authorities. The plan should take into account wind, waves and current. All equipment, especially hose, fenders and fairleads should be not just fit for purpose but compatible between vessels.
Perhaps most important was the “human factor.” Experience and teamwork were essential but it was vital to allow for fatigue. “You don’t get a lot of rest while transfer operations are going on.”
Noel Casey, of 7 King’s Bench Walk, summarised the legal actions and court decisions arising from a dispute between the owners and charterers of The Falkonera. The former had withheld permission for a crude cargo to be transferred between VLCCs, given concerns about the physical and technical compatibility of the vessels.
Although there appeared to be no inherent flaws in the nominated vessels that would render them unsuitable, the owners were concerned about their respective lengths and the “poor vertical aspect.” During the operation, the respective drafts would change dramatically and they felt the mooring lines might not be able to cope.
While the court held that the specific problems identified by the owner did not justify rejection of the charterer’s intention to transfer in this instance, it recognised that owners would always have a “safety veto.”
Selim Gungen, of Turkish ship owners Gungen Maritime and Trading, presented a case study of the steps taken after one of his company’s Suexmax tankers had been involved in a collision prior to an STS operation. He pointed out that while repair costs were considerable, “the big loss is time off hire.”
While the Gungen’s vessels had been involved in over 60 successful STS operations since 2012, this incident “struck us like lightning. We spent several weeks working on technical and legal matters.” Consequently, the company had tightened up its already rigorous procedures for co-operation between all parties and observance of checklists.
As well as complying with MARPOL 73/78 Annex 1 and observing the latest OCIMF standards and guidance, Mr. Gungen drew attention to the need to perform mooring and unmooring in daylight where possible; and to ensuring that the receiving ship was no more than 20 years old, double hulled, seaworthy, classed by IACS, fully insured and entered with an International Group P&I club.
The seminar was chaired by the Hon. Mr. Justice Flaux.