Ports need to be ready to accept a maritime casualty to prevent environmental disasters and coastal states need to ratify IMO conventions to provide refuge to distressed ships
These were the conclusions from experts in salvage and port operations at Riviera Maritime Media’s Any port in a storm... coastal state responsibilities assessed webinar held on 17 June as the concluding webinar of Riviera’s ITS Salvage Webinar Week.
A strong panel included the UK Government secretary of state’s representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SOSREP) Stephan Hennig and Havenbedrijf Rotterdam special projects head of legal emeritus and International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) legal committee chair Frans van Zoelen.
Also on the panel were Multraship managing director and International Salvage Union (ISU) executive committee member Leendert Muller and representing insurers, TT Club risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox.
Mr Hennig said port authorities and operators “do not want to stick their heads in the sand” when a maritime casualty needs refuge, as this may make things worse. “We need to deal with the issue head on,” he said. “Co-operation between relevant parties is the way to resolve this.”
He called for pragmatism when dealing with salvage situations and for flexibility from port authorities and coastal states to assist when and where necessary.
“Ships in trouble will always need places of refuge for shelter, to gain a measure of control of the vessel and protect the environment,” said Mr Hennig. “Ship crews should expect they will get support when they need it.” But he conceded coastal states need to protect their environments.
Mr Hennig explained how the Erika accident in 1999, Castor in 2001 and Prestige in 2002 “raised the stakes” when it came to tension between salvors requiring ports of refuge and coastal states protecting their interests.
A series of more recent container ship fires could be added to this list, where salvors had to negotiate with several different coastal states and port authorities to gain access to a point of refuge.
Mr Hennig explained there were increasing complexities to be considered when discussing places of refuge: the type of ship in distress, its cargo type and quantities, location, port options, risk aversion by coastal states and the lack of experience to tackle maritime emergencies.
He said a maritime casualty would “need a port of refuge fit for purpose… some are better suited and prepared for this”.
For example, few ports would be able to handle an ultra-large container ship (ULCS) in trouble.
Mr van Zoelen said operators of ULCSs need to prevent problems before they occur, by ensuring containers are secure and cargo correctly declared. He also called on coastal states to follow existing IMO guidelines and ratify protocols. “States need to ratify IMO’s 2010 Hazardous and Noxious Substance (HNS) protocol,” he said, and to finalise the existing maritime liability and compensation framework.
“HNS protocol is an essential instrument and should come into force,” said Mr van Zoelen. “It needs seven more signatories with more than 40M tonnes of HNS cargo.”
Under IMO guidelines, coastal states must come to a considered decision whether to provide a port of refuge. In addition, Mr van Zoelen said European Union coastal states have to develop contingency plans.
Adding infrastructure to deal with container ship incidents is one option, as a key challenge for these casualties is “where to find a quay wall for a longer period to unload the hampered container ship” he said.
Mr Muller said a successful emergency response and salvage project requires professional salvors, supportive authorities and appropriate commercial and contractual frameworks.
“Bringing a distressed ship into port can be essential,” he said. “Dealing with a casualty in a place of refuge prevents deterioration of the vessel and marine pollution over wide areas.”
He said information flow and co-operation are important when determining where to take a distressed ship during salvage. “There should be no refusal of refuge without inspection of the vessel,” said Mr Muller.
He also called for having one person of contact, such as SOSREP Mr Hennig in the UK, for the European Union, which could be facilitated by the European Maritime Safety Agency.
Mr Muller also wants to see this co-operation available elsewhere. “We hope IMO will adopt EU guidelines on port of refuge,” he said. “There should be a single point of contact with no political influences for operational decisions. This would be best for the environment and coastal state.”
Places of refuge could then be offered depending on the “type of vessel and its different cargo and situation,” said Mr Muller.
“What we would need for an ULCS would depend on the situation. An onboard fire is a different situation to a loss of rudder,” he explained. “We could need a place to unload a vessel in a compliant way.”
TT Club’s Mr Storrs-Fox reiterated the need for co-operation in preventing and dealing with maritime casualties. “We all need to recognise these can be complex situations and we need every port to be pragmatic in their response and decision making,” he said. “Ports and countries need to be ready for robust emergency response as things do happen and will be happening.”
Stakeholders need to recognise the pressures within shipping and coastal states, but the needs from distressed ships must be met.
“Refusals may be attractive for coastal states, but we have seen ships passed between eight to 10 coastal states and that has turned a crisis into a disaster,” said Mr Storrs-Fox.
He highlighted how there could be tensions between port authorities and terminal operators when offering a port of refuge. “Terminals may have no choice but to accept the ship,” he said.
A solution would be for ports to have emergency response plans and crisis management in place, and for ports “to accept costs will occur” said Mr Storrs-Fox. “Ports and terminals need to be assured costs, including some uplift from normal tariffs, will be met” by the shipowner or insurers.
To help this, states need to ratify the 2010 HNS protocol, 2007 Nairobi international convention on the removal of wrecks and the 1996 IMO convention on limitation of liability for maritime claims.
Poll questions and answers
Opinions from the webinar audience were garnered through a series of poll questions. Most delegates think both concerns raised by the ship master and coastal state should be taken into account during a maritime casualty’s salvage.
When asked whose concerns should be given priority when considering a request for a place of refuge, 11% said the coastal state’s another 11% thought the ship master’s and 78% voted for both have to be considered.
Attendees were also in favour of good communication and co-operation between stakeholders in a maritime casualty. When asked who needs to co-operate with the coastal state when requesting a place of refuge, 76% of those responding thought it should be the vessel master, owners and insurers. 14% said the vessel master, 7% the shipowner and 3% the insurers.
Delegates were then asked what they saw as the greatest concerns for coastal states. 46% thought it was the potential national economic impact, 27% said the ability or capacity to provide appropriate response, 23% the media or public reaction and 4% the effective compensation regimes.
In another poll, attendees were asked what size of vessel (in gross tonnage) is required to maintain wreck insurance. 4% voted for 100 gt, 23% for 300 gt, 58% for 500 gt and 15% for 1,000 gt.
Experts on Riviera Maritime Media’s Any port in a storm... coastal state responsibilities assessed webinar panel were (left to right): Havenbedrijf Rotterdam special projects head of legal emeritus and IAPH legal committee chair Frans van Zoelen, UK Government’s SOSREP Stephan Hennig, Multraship managing director Leendert Muller and TT Club risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox