In their efforts to reduce downtime due to precipitation, many of the ports in the NOPAC region are instructing vessels’ masters to load in ‘light rain’, with the threat of fines if they refuse to comply. As such, a master’s refusal has led to disputes between charterers and owners.
‘Light rain’ is a vague description and open to interpretation. Some ports interpret this as when you can still see the grain dust through the precipitation during loading. Therefore, should the dust be supressed, they would consider this to be ‘heavy rain’.
In the hole
To allow loading operations to continue during periods of rain, alternative methods have emerged, some of which are becoming commonplace in NOPAC ports and terminals.
Most commonly, we are becoming increasingly aware of terminals requiring those vessels fitted with cement holes in their hatches to use them to load the grain, regardless of the rain conditions.
Other methods proposed by terminals include placing tarpaulin across the hold, with a hole in it to allow cargo to be loaded.
Using these methods will not guarantee against wetting damage if loading during rain.
This can cause several issues, both technical and in reducing protection against future claims.
• Trimming: The grain must be trimmed in accordance with the IMO International Grain Code. Loading through holes may prevent this, and at some point, the hatches must be opened fully to allow trimming.
• Open systems: The terminal may not have a closed loading system. If the terminal loading equipment is not adequately closed from the rain, then the cargo is vulnerable to wetting prior to reaching the vessel’s cargo hold through the cement hole. Some terminals attempt to address this by placing a tarpaulin over the loading spout.
• Cargo condition assessment: If the hatches are closed, you cannot check the apparent order and condition of the cargo being loaded. This means that any debris in the cargo or other condition issues will be difficult to spot. Even if the hatches are subsequently opened for trimming operations, the hold is likely to be at least 60% full by this time.
In a trade where receivers will reasonably expect a representation in a bill of lading that grain cargo has been loaded in apparent good order and condition, to mean the cargo was capable of observation whilst it was loaded through open hatch covers, this may amount to a potential misdescription of cargo, which may cause issue for club cover.
Loss prevention measures
Prior to the vessel’s arrival at the load port, ask for the terminal’s guidance documents as they usually outline their requirements on loading in rain and their proposed solutions.
Trim the cargo to the master’s satisfaction and in accordance with the Grain Code. To do this, the hatches must be opened and therefore this should be done outside periods of any rain.
Take photographic evidence that the holds are clean and clear of debris before loading. An independent hold survey may provide more robust evidence. Continue to collect good photographic evidence throughout the operation.
In the event of any wetting damage noted at discharge, cargo interests may allege this occurred whilst in the hold and under the period of carrier’s responsibility; namely, ingress through the hatch covers. To defend against such allegations, owners should ensure that all hatch cover maintenance is up to date and there is adequate evidence of their weathertight properties. Note that ultrasonic testing (UST) allows hatch covers to be tested in a static condition in port but allows an opinion to be formed as to whether the hatch-cover sealing system will perform well when the ship is at sea in a dynamic condition. This is a major advantage when compared to the hose test and can be a very important tool when exercising due diligence to determine if a ship is cargoworthy and if hatch covers are weathertight.
Bills of lading
When issuing mate’s receipts and bills of lading where a substantial amount of grain has been loaded with hatches closed, the method of loading should be recorded on the face of the bill of lading.
This will not render the mate’s receipt or bill of lading “unclean” since it does not record the cargo was found to be damaged during loading, but it fairly warns subsequent holders of the bill of lading of the limitations placed on the master affecting their ability to determine the apparent order and condition of the cargo.
Legally this should have the effect of limiting the binding representations within a clean bill of lading going to the condition of cargo loaded.
Some masters may choose to issue an LOP at the load port with supporting photographs to show that during loading the master and crew were unable to witness the state of the cargo upon loading. However, whilst in theory this might show the cargo was loaded in poor condition, do not expect that an LOP alone will provide the carrier with practical protection against cargo claims at the discharge port, particularly if nothing was said in the bill of lading and the receiver did not see the LOP when they took up that bill of lading.
Source: The North of England Protecting and Indemnity Association