Damage to cargo is the most frequent type of liability that confronts a shipowner. Unfortunately, cargo damage is often caused by small mistakes. In the case of damage to a cargo on board, it is vital that all the facts are recorded and documented.
An important function of the Bill of Lading (B/L) is to describe the condition and quantity of the cargo as received on board. If the cargo is discharged in a different condition, or in a lesser quantity, than that entered on the B/L, the shipowners may be held liable for the damage or shortfall.
Is it damaged?
Inspect cargo as it comes on board. Check for any differences you may find and record them. Notify the shipper and charterers that you intend to alter the shipping document to reflect your observations. Alternatively, reject the cargo.
Inspect the cargo and record any differences
No ‘back letters’
Do not give authority to sign a clean B/L in exchange for a ‘back letter’ or indemnity. Such action is fraudulent and makes the P&I Insurance in valid.
Do not accept ‘back letters’
Tally the cargo
The tallying of cargo during loading and discharge is a useful means to avoid or limit shortfalls
Tallying avoids or limits shortfalls
Record in the log book inspections of cargo holds undertaken by the ship’s officers or crew during the voyages
Accurately record all inspections
Make sure that cargo is carefully and safely loaded, stowed, separated, carried and discharged
Safely stow the cargo
Put it in writing
In Time Charters applicable to dry cargo vessels, the responsibility for load, stow, trim and discharge operations is sometimes transferred from the shipowners to the charterers. Therefore, if you see reason to interfere in the way the charterers, or their supercargo, stow or handle the cargo, make sure you carefully write down your reason for objecting. Ask the correspondent to telefax a copy of your remarks to the ship’s owners. In this respect, photographs can be very useful.
If there is an objection, write it down
Sea- and cargo worthiness
The Master always has the final responsibility for the sea- and cargo worthiness of the vessel
Survey the damage
If you suspect that your cargo may have been damaged during the voyage, inform your owners. They should then request to arrange for a surveyor to meet you at your destination. Alternatively, you may always contact your local correspondent. They are instructed to immediately assist you in any way
Ensure any damage is surveyed and recorded
In case of heavy weather, keep a copy of any meteorological reports, or warnings, and properly record the conditions in the ship’s log. This particularly applies to adverse sea conditions which may cause damage to the goods on board
Keep copies of weather report
Lodge a sea protest at your first available port of call and make sure a log extract, showing relevant entries, is attached. Co-operate as much as possible with the surveyor appointed on behalf of the owners at the destination. If possible, the Master should attend the survey of damaged cargo himself, or have his Chief Officer attend
Lodge a sea
Keep unidentified people away
Consult the local correspondent before giving permission for unauthorised surveyors or lawyers to board the vessel. Protect your owners’ interests by posting a gangway watch. Be prepared to prevent unauthorised people from boarding the vessel. Guarding your ship shall always be in accordance with the ISPS code
Stop unauthorised people from coming on board
Damage can be reduced by immediate separation of wet cargo (e.g. wet fertiliser) from the rest of the cargo
Separate dry and wet cargo
Also record any other factor that may have a bearing on the cargo carried, e.g. ventilation provided to avoid condensation. In addition, record relevant dew-point readings in the cargo spaces and outside
Record all details concerning the cargo
Surrender of cargo
Cargo must only be delivered to the holder of the original B/L or his agent. This important formality is usually attended to by the ship’s agent – but if you do find yourself in a difficult or worrying situation, contact the local correspondent
Immediately inform the correspondent.