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Monday, December 17, 2018 

A recent incident involving cargo contamination has led the UK P&I Club to remind its members that ultimate responsibility for ensuring cargo tanks are clean and suitable for the intended cargo rests with the shipowner.

Recalling the incident, Captain David Nichol, Risk Assessor at UK P&I Club, explained: “A vessel was fixed to load gas oil after all cargo tanks and lines were washed with fresh water and stripped dry following a discharge of naphtha.  Upon arrival at the load port, a cargo tank inspection was carried out by surveyors appointed on behalf of the shippers. Inspection was restricted to taking dips due to the tanks being inerted and testing the tank atmospheres for hydrocarbons (naphtha vapour). With less than 2% of hydrocarbon content reported, loading commenced.

“The loading was suspended for taking “first foot” samples from the cargo tanks, but rather than await the results of analysis, charterers instructed the vessel to continue loading. When analysis of samples indicated the cargo flashpoint was below the specified minimum and consequently loading was stopped, the relatively large quantity of cargo loaded at that point meant mitigation measures to bring the cargo back on-spec were less effective, resulting in a high value claim.

“Two potential causes for the cargo contamination were identified. Firstly, the tank cleaning had been carried out using fresh water from a retention tank containing an oily mixture from the previous cargo. Secondly, it was considered likely the hydrocarbon content of the inerted tanks was understated due to cargo vapour separating out into a naphtha-rich bottom layer which may not have been detected during gas sampling.

“The shipowner argued that if shippers had followed the practice of stopping loading until the results of the “first foot” analysis were known, mitigation measures could have been taken to bring the cargo back within specification for flashpoint and otherwise reduce the depreciation in value. Nonetheless, legal advice ruled that, under the Hague Visby Rules, it is the shipowner’s obligation to present cargo tanks in a fit condition to receive the intended cargo.”

He said the lessons learnt from this, are that ultimate responsibility for ensuring cargo tanks are clean and suitable for the intended cargo rests with the shipowner; that passing a pre-loading tank inspection does not necessarily represent proof the cargo tanks are in a fit condition; and if there is any doubt as to charterers orders for cleaning or loading operations, the master should immediately query such orders and inform the ship manager.

Nichol said the early intervention of qualified surveyors and/or cargo experts can assist in resolving problems or significantly mitigate their consequences.

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