Coastal States need to reconsider their responsibilities in granting refuge: TT Club

Transport and logistics mutual TT Club’s Abdul Fahl has highlighted to a recent transport and logistics forum the plight of fire-damaged ships and their often prolonged search for a place of refuge.

Speaking at the Middle East Transport and Logistics Summit recently, Fahl pointed to the substantial delays in finding a place of refuge for damaged ships. He illustrated this with the examples of MSC Flaminia, Maersk Honam and Yantian Express. In all three cases fire-stricken ships took up to three months to be granted refuge. A further period approaching six months elapsed before their cargo could be safely and securely discharged.

Fahl observed that there were no international conventions or mandatory regulations directly compelling a State to provide refuge. International Maritime Organization resolutions promoted preparedness and the need for coastal States to take responsibility to avoid compounding issues faced by ships in distress.

Equally, Fahl noted, EU member states are required to draw up and implement plans to take ships in distress requesting refuge under their authority. However, the relevant Directive stops short of imposing a legal obligation on the coastal States to provide such refuge.

Despite such requirements and guidelines, Fahl observed that the fire-crippled MSC Flaminia, on which three crew members died, was denied access to a number of ports in Europe for 11 weeks before eventually berthing in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. A further 20-plus weeks elapsed before the remaining containers were discharged in Romania. The Maersk Honam was even more seriously damaged in the Arabian Sea, with five crew losing their lives. The severely destabilised ship was eventually allowed into Jebel Ali, Dubai some 11 weeks later.

Fahl said that such delays endangered crews and salvors, increasing the risk of further fire and damage, augmenting the possibility of maritime pollution and environmental damage of the coasts, and enlarged the losses of unaffected containers and cargo due their extended transit times to their final destinations. “While clearly each incident presents multifaceted issues and diverse interests, the balance in favour of coastal State sovereignty, economy and environment may restrict the readiness to provide assistance to ships in distress”, he said.

TT Club urged all stakeholders, port administrations, coastal States and the regulatory authorities to consider carefully their responsibilities to be proactive in setting up and testing emergency plans in regard to places of refuge on safety, environmental and moral grounds.