As Peter Scott, Senior Executive (Claims), North P&I Club, says, the Master and crew cannot expect to do everything themselves. Unless the wetting or damage is obviously very minor, one of the Master’s first actions should be to call the Club’s local correspondent for assistance.
If the damage is more important, the correspondent will appoint an experienced local surveyor to go on board and help the Master. With their cooperation, they can deal with the stevedores and cargo interests to ensure that the cargo is discharged quickly with minimum further damage and to investigate the cause of the damage. The crew should also cooperate fully with the correspondent and surveyor and provide any information and documentation that may be requested.
Whatever the case however, the Master must take photos of the damage and area surrounding the damage. The quality of images from some smartphone cameras can be poor, so a digital camera on the highest resolution setting is preferred. If there is not any camera, smartphone camera is better than no photos at all. What is more, the Master must ensure that the crew do not separately take their own videos or photographs to avoid the unnecessary release of possibly damaging information.
In addition, the Master can take samples of both damaged and undamaged cargo. The samples should be collected in individual plastic bags and, if the cargo is degradable, they Master should store them in a fridge until the surveyor can take custody.
If the damage is significant, the Master may find they have less control over the situation. The cargo interests will have their own surveyors who will collaborate with the ship's surveyor. The ship may be arrested so will be delayed in any case.
It is also possible that cargo interests' surveyors, court surveyors, experts or lawyers will start making all sorts of demands on the Master for statements or ship’s documents. The Master should take guidance from the correspondent and surveyor on this. The best solution would be for all the necessary documentation and statements to be released to the correspondent who can hold it until the owner, the P&I Club and the cargo interests can agree on what should be released and when.
The Master should also check with the owner whether to put the charterer on notice of the matter and reserve the owner’s rights under the charterparty.
This can be a worrying time for a Master. A Master cannot be expected to be a legal expert or cargo expert as well as a ship handling expert. In the event of cargo damage, take samples, take photos, call for assistance and let others take some of the pressure!
North P&I Club said.