Shipowners need to ensure their vessels are following regulations for transiting the Turkish Straits, to avoid risking expensive salvage claims from tug operators providing support when ships are not maintaining minimum speeds
In addition, tug operators in the Turkish Straits need to ensure they are clear about the services they provide to prevent legal arguments and costs.
One ship insurer has highlighted the increasing number of cases concerning salvage services in the region, and questioned whether these were necessary.
Norwegian protection and indemnity (P&I) Club Skuld said shipping companies need to be aware of the regulations for transiting the Turkish Straits and of the availability of tug and pilot assistance.
Skuld vice president and head of freight, demurrage and defence, Andrew Glynn-Williams said there had been incidents where shipowners are at risk of receiving an expensive salvage claim from tug owners, where it was unclear at the time these services were agreed.
“From what we see, when this happens, the ship master is often unaware of the exact nature of the services being provided by the tugs when a line is passed on board,” said Mr Glynn-Williams.
“Which may in part be due to the nature of discussions between pilots, vessel traffic services and the tugs being in Turkish.”
These tug services are offered if ships are not following the regulations for transiting the Turkish Straits, such as if the vessel is unable to maintain the minimum required speed of 4 knots, a requirement in Article 13 of Turkish regulations.
“The issue appears to be particularly prevalent in the Bosphorus Straits where the currents can be strong,” said Mr Glynn-Williams in an alert to shipping.
“Where minimum speed is not maintained, we have seen tug assistance being quickly provided, whether requested or not, which is then followed by an expensive salvage claim being made by the tug owners.”
He said salvage awards have recently been as high as 7% of the salved value, which is an increase on previous years.
These salvage claims will usually be settled between the interests in the marine sector, usually owners through hull and machinery insurance, cargo, bunker interests and the salvors.
P&I Clubs may not be notified of an incident, but would become involved where cargo interests then seek to recover their portion of the award or sums paid in General Average, by alleging a breach of the contract of carriage, usually allegations of unseaworthiness.
To avoid all of these costs and disagreements, shipowners and masters should be aware of the regulations that apply to these passages.
Mr Glynn-Williams advises owners and masters to be alert to situations where tug assistance may be offered or provided.
Skuld also recommends that shipowners ensure their vessel is fit to comply with all the regulations, including sufficient engine power, before the transit commences.
“If there is any doubt here, it may be prudent to engage the services of a tug company on commercial terms at the beginning of the passage,” said Mr Glynn-Williams.
“This is an increased cost to the voyage but may pay dividends if a costly salvage is avoided and with the delays that might come with this while securities are collected and/or other delays.”
Another recommendation is for vessel owners to save information, particularly audio recordings, from the ship’s voyage data recorder.
“All members should preserve all evidence relating to the incident,” said Mr Glynn-Williams. Audio recordings “may be key to defending such a claim”.
“Such information may even assist in arguing that the nature of the services provided by tugs was not salvage at all, although that may not always be easy,” he said.
Skuld thanked Kalimbassieris Maritime Captain Ibrahim Dogan for his input into this shipping recommendation.
Tug Technology & Business advises tug operators to be clear of the services offered and provided, and to receive written agreement to salvage terms under Lloyd’s Open Form or similar contract terms before proceeding. This should avoid disagreements, legal issues and provide clarity to shipowners and tug owners from the start.
Shipping uses Turkish Straits for trades between the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, Marmara Sea, Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea. The Bosphorus Strait is about 10 nautical miles in length and just 700 m wide at the narrowest point. It has strong currents and sharp turns. The Dardanelles Strait is about 38 nautical miles long. The passage is generally straightforward, except for two significant turns, near the City of Canakkale where the Strait is narrowest.
Montreux Convention (1936) established the general principle of freedom of navigation through the Turkish Straits, while pilotage and towage services remained optional.
Turkey’s proposed Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) was adopted by IMO in 1995.
Regulations for navigation in the Turkish Straits were revised in 1998 and in 2002, including suspension of all traffic in conditions of poor visibility and the restriction of large vessels carrying hazardous cargo to daylight-only transit.
On 31 December 2003, Turkey implemented a Vessel Traffic Service within the Turkish Straits.
Authorities imposed new changes from 1 September 2018 on the rules governing traffic in the Turkish Straits, these included: