Gard P&I Club recently provided its insight regarding disputes about “off-spec” or contaminated liquid cargoes, saying that they are a repeated problem and shipowners may have no independent evidence as to the cause of an alleged cargo contamination. However, if the cargo is “off-spec” when the vessel arrives at the discharge port and there is no evidence of contamination from the load port, the vessel could be faced with a claim, even if the vessel is not at fault.
Samples drawn at the load port and retained on board showing that the condition of the cargo has not changed between loading and discharge provide the best defence against cargo claims. It is important that operators use proper procedures for taking, and retaining, own samples of all cargoes loaded on the vessel and train their crew in how to perform the sampling process.
The transfer of custody of the cargo from another vessel and vice versa, takes place when the cargo passes the vessel’s manifold. A manifold sample taken at the start of loading and discharge can show who is responsible for the contamination of a cargo.
First foot samples should also be taken to confirm that the vessel’s systems and pipes are clean. This is very important where sensitive and/or expensive cargoes are loaded to reduce the risks of contaminating the entire cargo parcel.
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Furthermore, taking a final tank sample after completion of loading and before discharge, will enable the vessel to determine the cause of any potential contamination on board. If the quality of the cargo samples from the ship and shore appear to be different, loading should be stopped for further investigation.
To ensure the best possible defence of a cargo claim against the vessel, Gard proposes the following procedures:
- The crew should participate in the taking of cargo samples, both during loading and discharge, and should be competent in checking and verifying the quality of the samples taken.
- Independent cargo samples to be taken by the vessels’ crew.
- Vessel procedures should therefore be specifically formulated to avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to ensuring that this manifold sample is never disposed of, regardless of its apparent quality.
- Always flush the sampling point prior to drawing a sample.
- Use clean and appropriate sampling equipment and properly label, seal and store the samples in designated areas
- The labelling should always state where, what type and when the sample was drawn.
- Ensure there is sufficient sample amounts for retesting if necessary.
- For sample retention, operators must have a clear policy regarding storage space, the vessel’s schedule and the number of grades loaded for each voyage.
- Recordings should be made in the cargo log-book to ensure traceability of samples taken.
- Sample bottles should be suitable for the cargo in question.
- For cargo that is oxygen sensitive the bottles should be purged with nitrogen prior to sampling.
- On completion of sampling, a sample report should be produced by the vessel listing the unique identifier number of each sample retained on board and of the samples given to the charterers’ surveyor.