Monday 26 September 2011

Common Bulk Cargoes

When a layperson glances at a modern Bill of Lading from a bulk carrier they often ask what cargo is being carried. This is because in order to avoid claims or delivery disputes, the Bills are very specific about exactly what is being carried, rather than using an understandable description. Here is a short guide, which like all our articles we will expand on over time, to the real-world meanings of common cargoes listed as being carried.


FAME - Fatty Acid Methyl Esther - These are basically fatty acids (types of energy-rich acid taken from animal fats, vegetable oils), mixed with a pure alcohol (methanol) so they can be stored in a concentrated liquid form. They can readily be stored and transported and the ship's tanks can be relatively easily be cleaned after discharge. The exact quality and type is very important as the type of use and value can vary greatly. Some FAME cargoes may be used at destination for creating food products, face creams or tablets; it would be very important that such a cargo was not contaminated. But equally you could have a shipment of FAME which was old grease and oils collected from restaurants, and other sources, being transported for use as biodiesel (natural diesel) - this would be less valuable. FAME is a very common cargo in modern shipping because of its wide array of applications.

Swarf - metal scraps - This is one of those old words which has stuck in industrial use for want of a better replacement. Swarf used to refer to little bits of metal which fell on the floor whilst you were cutting or working with metal. They used to be of concern primarily as a safety hazard, because even a very thin slice of scrap metal lying on a floor or bench can be a real danger but today with the market price of all metals soaring they are better known as bulk shipments where scrap metal of all kinds is mixed together for shipment to scrapyards for melting down. Sometimes a shipment will just literally be a load of mixed scraps of all kinds (shavings, taps, pipes, cable) and sometimes it will be solid compressed blocks of such scrap. Sometimes you will see basic sorting processes having taken place, lke a designation 'Swarf - 25 MT honey'. This is a reference to scrap of a yellow and gold colour which has been piled together for melting down, as opposed to another lot of scrap madeup of grey metals.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Q: What is a Special Drawing Right?

Anyone looking at conventions involving international maritime law will soon come across the SDR or Special Drawing Right. It is used mainly in the calculation of limitations. An SDR is a creation of the IMF and is essentially like an international currency which cannot be spent. 

It's strength lies in the fact that it's value is decided by the IMF based on a 'basket of currencies' (the Dollar, Pound, Euro and Yen), so it avoids the fluctuations of a single currency when a country announces bad employment data, or a bailout etc. 

The most common concern is what one is worth (the answer is about one Euro - normally). The specific information is available directly on the IMF website, but a much easier way is to just use a conversion site like XE. The international 3 digit currency code for the SDR is actually XDR, so just scroll to the bottom of the extended currency list and choose convert XDR into whatever currency you like. 

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Article: The Growing Business of Armed Guards on International Ships (to Counter Piracy)

We often wonder, when reading of news stories involving piracy, who are the people at the forefront of dealing with this problem day to day. I mean if you mention any of the places we commonly associate with piracy to a 'normal' marine professional / surveyor they would baulk at the offer of a trip there or a project involving sorting something out there. 

However, one company that springs to mind is Gray Page. They specialise in maritime investigations, crisis management and providing plans and intelligence in handling such situations. Check out their website for further information (linked above).

One of the issues they are presently warning about is the fact that there is an increasing need to vet companies offering armed guard (private security services) services to vessels. This is a burgeoning market at the moment and it appears that some think that a cautious approach needs to be taken to those rushing to enter the market.  

Gray Page advised that the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee’s (MSC) recently approved interim guidance on the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) to combat piracy underlines the requirement for independent vetting of private armed maritime security providers (AMSP).

The MSC guidance, issued in May, incorporates recommendations for flag States confirming that it is the responsibility of individual flag States whether to ordain the carriage of security personnel and their firearms on board ships sailing under their flags. Further interim guidance, for shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters, seeks to address the difficulties faced in selecting an appropriate provider of armed security services.

James Wilkes, managing director, Gray Page, commented: “The IMO should be commended for setting these guidelines focused, as they are, on ensuring that the provision on board of armed maritime security teams is managed safely and lawfully.”

“For a shipowner, employing the services of an armed maritime security provider is an exceptionally serious proposition, as the logical consequence of putting men with arms on board a ship is, fundamentally, to sanction the potential use of lethal force to defend the crew and vessel (albeit in extreme and proscribed circumstances). Any decision of such importance should be supported by comprehensive and objective due diligence.”

Gray Page has launched an ‘Armed Maritime Security Provider’ Vetting Programme to provide shipowners with a reliable and independent means of vetting prospective providers of armed maritime security services. The programme helps shipowners objectively and comprehensively evaluate prospective providers against professional, legal and ethics-based criteria encompassing corporate probity, financial substance, regulatory and legislative compliance, commercial experience, contractual integrity, operational and logistical capability, weapons licensing and accountability, and the selection, recruitment and training of security personnel.

About one in ten vessels off the Somali coast already carry armed guards. The IMO claims there were 489 reports of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2010 - up more than 20% on 2009. So far this year more than 200 cases have been reported.

Update October 2011 - We are told that the North of England P&I Club (a member of the International Group of P&I Clubs) has partnered with Gray Page to provide armed guard vetting services to all its members. 

Contributor Article: 10 Extraordinary Modern Shipwrecks

This article was contributed by a reader of the Shipping Law Blog, Jennifer Lynch from the E-Advisor Blog, which contains some fascinating factual articles on science and the modern world. 

Shipwrecks aren't really considered a modern problem. Air transportation, which is obviously much more efficient, supplanted ocean liners decades ago, causing the romanticism that came with setting out on long overseas journeys to fade. Even still, ships remain a large part of worldwide commerce and transportation, the latter of which is more common in poor countries, where unfortunate accidents are more frequent. The following shipwrecks range from small-scale tragedies to unforgettable catastrophes, capturing headlines worldwide when they occurred.

  1. USCGC WHITE ALDER (1968):

    Longtime residents of New Orleans still discuss the plight of the White Alder, a former Navy YF-257-class lighter assigned to tend river aids-to-navigation and various other Coast Guard duties. The ship met its demise in the early evening of December, when it collided with a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter in the Mississippi River near White Castle, Louisiana, killing 17 of the 20 crew members. Just three of the dead were recovered due to the thick river sediment that quickly buried the cutter. More than 40 years later, 14 crewmen remain at the bottom of the Mississippi.

    Perhaps America's most famous modern shipwreck, theEdmund Fitzgerald is still a fresh wound for the families of the 29 crew members who perished that night. When it was launched, it was the biggest ship on the Great Lakes, and its large hauls made it extremely valuable during its 17-year run. En route to a steel mill near Detroit from Superior, Wisconsin, the freighter encountered a winter storm with hurricane-force winds that created 35-foot waves. With a bad list, broken radars and water engulfing the deck, it sank 17 miles from Whitefish Bay. No distress signals were sent out, and Captain Ernest McSorley, who planned to retire at the end of shipping season, last reported "We are holding our own."
  3. RAINBOW WARRIOR (1985):

    A former UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food trawler, the Rainbow Warrior was operated by Greenpeace to curtail whaling, seal hunting and nuclear testing, most notably evacuating 300 Marshall Islanders from Rongelap Atoll, a former US nuclear testing area. Docked in a harbor in New Zealand, it suffered two large, crippling explosions that sent it under water — photographer Fernando Pereira was killed when he returned to the ship to collect his equipment as the second explosion occurred. Two French secret service agents were arrested, and the nation denied involvement until a British newspaper revealed French President Francois Mitterrand authorized the plan. The scandal resulted in several high-profile resignations in the French government.

    During the early stages of its trip across the English Channel from Dover, South East England to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, the Herald of Free Enterprise began taking on water, listing and then capsizing in just 90 seconds. The sudden turn of events ended with the deaths of 193 people, many of whom were overcome by hypothermia in the 3-degree Celsius waters. One man disappeared after he made himself into a human bridge to save his wife, daughter, and other passengers. Failure to close the bow doors resulted in the worst peacetime maritime disaster for a British-registered ship since the Titanic disaster 75 years earlier.
  5. MV DONA PAZ (1987):

    Never before has there been a worse ferry disaster. The Dona Paz, en route from Tacloban City to Manila in the Philippines amid choppy seas, collided with the MT Vector, an oil tanker carrying 8,800 barrels of gasoline. Most of the passengers were asleep, so few had time to react as a fire aboard the Vector spread rapidly to theDona Paz. With life jackets locked away and a confused crew, the passengers' chances of survival were slim. Philippine maritime authorities heard about the accident eight hours later, taking an additional eight hours to conduct search and rescue operations. Just 26 survived from both ships; the estimated number of passengers who died varies, ranging from just more than 1,500 to 4,000.
  6. MS ESTONIA (1994):

    As the largest ship belonging to the recently liberated Estonia, the MS Estoniaserved as an object of pride for the nation. It also caused horrible despair. Destined for Stockholm from Estonia, it struggled through a storm with 35 to 45 mph winds and 10-to 13-foot waves, weather typical for the Baltic Sea in the fall. When water flooded the vehicle deck, the ship rolled to 90 degrees, prompting the ship's crew to communicate a mayday. Ferries and helicopters arrived at the scene during the next couple hours, rescuing 138 people — including one who died at the hospital. Drowning and hypothermia caused 852 deaths, the largest peacetime shipwreck disaster in the history of the Baltic Sea.
  7. NEW CARISSA (1999):

    Fortunately, no lives were lost during the grounding of theNew Carissa, but it did have an adverse impact on Oregon's coastline. Approaching Port of Coos Bay, it was forced to anchor due to poor weather conditions and thus delay its arrival. A short chain and high winds, however, dragged the ship toward the shore, and by the time the crew had figured it out, it was too late. The vessel ran aground and two of its fuel tanks spilled 70,000 gallons of fuel oil and diesel, eventually killing 3,000 shorebirds and seabirds. Attempts to burn off the oil caused the ship to break into two, and it was later dismantled in 2008 despite becoming somewhat of a tourist attraction.

    The German-based cruise ship was constructed with a double hull to prevent damage from minor collisions around the Antarctic Peninsula, a feature that made it seem perfectly safe. Even still, it wasn't strong enough to withstand a large rock or reef in Sandfly Passage, Solomon Islands. After the passengers were successfully evacuated and the ship began to list, the captain was forced to ground it in Roderick Bay, where it has since remained with a 46-degree list. Like the New Carissa during its prolonged grounding, theWorld Discoverer serves as an offbeat attraction for tourists.
  9. MV JOOLA (2002):

    Only the Dona Paz disaster is considered to have been more costly than the Joola disaster, which ended with 1,863 deaths. Owned by the Senegalese government, the ship made frequent trips from Southern Senegal to Dakar with more passengers than its intended 580. As it embarked on the usual journey prior to its sinking, it held about 2,000 passengers, enough to make the ship vulnerable to a storm off the coast of Gambia. Designed only to navigate coastal waters, it quickly succumbed to the strong winds and heavy waves, sinking in fewer than five minutes. Overcrowding and a long history of technical problems were primary factors leading to its demise. Only 64 passengers survived, including only one woman who was pregnant.
  10. MV LEVINA 1 (2007):

    Tragedy struck twice aboard the Levina 1. Just six hours after the ferry departed from Jakarta, it caught fire, forcing hundreds of passengers to jump into the Java Sea. At least 51 people were killed and more than 290 were rescued, many of whom were picked up by the Levina II, the ferry's sister ship. Remarkably, 60 passengers were able to swim to a nearby island to wait for help. The next day, four investigators and 12 journalists were transported to the ship, where several boarded without lifevests. Not long after, it listed and quickly began to sink, causing a panic among the party aboard. Two police forensic officers and a cameraman went missing, and another cameraman died in the hospital.

Thursday 15 September 2011

How Do International Conventions Work?

There are generally three ways in which states agree to be bound by to international treaties (also referred to as conventions, protocols etc.):

1) Full Signature - Very uncommon, basically the state signs up to the new treaty and agrees to be bound by its terms at the same time - a move for the main proponent of a treaty or a state which has much to gain from its going ahead.
2) Signature subject to Ratification - Probably the most common type of way to proceed: a state signs a treaty to show its support in principle for a treaty but does not wish to be bound by its terms until it feels the time is right, when it will ratify the convention.
3) Accession - This is normally for the 'latecomers' if you like - they come along and see other who have signed and already moved to ratification and skip all the nonsense and just 'accede' to the treaty, agreeing to be bound by all its terms straight away in one step.

In some states once the treaty has been consented to fully it automatically becomes binding on a national level, national courts must abide by it. In other states a national law must be passed in the normal way by parliament, containing the text of the convention.

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