To begin with, Gard reminds that
undeclared/excess bunkers can be considered a criminal act by Turkish customs officials with the ship's crew being accused of smuggling.
Concerning the incident, when the vessel arrived at a Turkish port, customs officials boarded the ship to search for illegal and prohibited goods and, since the bunkers onboard is also within the scope of such searches, took soundings of the fuel oil tanks to check the accuracy of the declared fuel oil figures. As the sounding figures indicated a possible excess (undeclared) fuel oil in the ship’s tanks, an independent bunker survey was arranged. Subsequent calculations revealed that the ship did carry an excess of approximately 85 tonnes against the declared quantity of fuel oil.
It is reported that the Authorities have already issued a “confiscation order” and demanded the ship discharge the excess fuel oil and the Master has been brought onshore to provide a statement. Turkish authorities, under its Anti-Smuggling Law No. 5607, can consider a discrepancy between the declared figures and the figures established by a bunker survey as an act of smuggling of petroleum products. This can lead to criminal proceedings being brought against the Master and other members of the crew.
Following the incident, Gard provides recommendations on how to deal with a similar situation:
While the case described above has not yet been settled, its course of events is reportedly not uncommon.
"According to our local correspondents in Turkey, the trend of unannounced customs inspections, including scrutiny of the fuel oil remaining onboard, has increased in the recent months. Masters of ships calling Turkish ports are therefore advised to be particularly vigilant and attentive when filling in the customs declaration," Gard adds.
It is further more advised that the fuel oil remaining onboard must be carefully calculated and measured before being declared to Turkish customs.
It is also important that all relevant crew members are made aware that undeclared bunkers is an issue in Turkish ports and that a discrepancy between the declared figures and the figures established by a bunker survey can bring about serious consequences for the crew.