Loss of anchors in the Middle East – Shipowners’ Club

Group Club Shipowners’ has said that it had noticed an increase in recent years in the frequency of anchors being lost in the Arabian Gulf. It has therefore produced an article exploring the causes of such incidents, the P&I liabilities arising and giving some tips on steps that can be taken to avoid similar occurrences.

Anchors are one of the most fundamental elements of a ship and offer an efficient and fuel-saving way for vessels to maintain their position, whether waiting for a berth or laid up. However, when a vessel’s anchor is lost it poses difficult issues. This is not just in an environmental sense, but there are also concerns for the safety of the vessel and these can be heightened if it falls in an offshore field, especially near a cable or pipeline.

Not all lost anchors are dealt with through P&I cover, with liability triggered only when there is a removal obligation at law. This obligation is commonly seen when the authorities request the removal of the anchor from the seabed under an order, often in a designated anchorage.

This could be by a formal removal notice, or possibly through a sufficiently formal request by the authorities that satisfies the Club that such a removal order is or would be made. In these circumstances the Club will cover the removal costs of the lost anchor. The removal costs could include survey fees, diving costs, sonar scans, hire of a retrieval vessel etc.

On occasion, Members have additional cover which encompasses contractual requests for removal, particularly under the Specialist Offshore Packages. In cases such these the P&I Club will be able to assist Members with removal of a lost anchor, even where there is no order from the authorities to do so, so long as there is a contractual commitment to undertake the task.

As with any wreck removal-type operation which is dealt with as a liability claim, Club cover will offset the value of the property recovered in mitigation of the costs incurred. This is usually effected by the Members retaining the anchor at an agreed value, or by a salvage sale to a third party.

Shipowners’’ Club said that it had recorded a noticeable increase in the instances of lost anchor claims during specific periods in the Arabian Gulf region, particularly between April and May and again during September and October. These claims are concentrated mainly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar. The busiest Middle-East ports in these countries have a high volume of vessel calls. The Club said that this, when combined with unique weather and seabed conditions, could explain the prevalence of lost anchors during these specific periods. In the region there are Shamal periods, when a north-westerly wind blows over Iraq and the Persian Gulf states. The Shamal winds occur mostly during summer, but may also sometimes occur in winter.

The Shamal winds start increasing around April, peaking in June and July. They carry strong wind speeds. These increase during the day and drop off at night, meaning vessels are more prone to losing their anchors during those times and when anchoring during the day.

Claims received by the Club have mainly been during those periods, and it said that this was likely to explain much of the issue.

Busy ports also often necessitate vessels to stay at anchorage for prolonged periods. Increased demand and growth in the area and the ongoing expansion and investments in the port might also be contributors to the issue. Prolonged waiting periods could increase the stress on the anchoring equipment and cause damage, resulting in reduced holding power over a period of time.

When anchoring in these conditions, the Club said that there were several solutions which might improve the anchoring performance of the vessel and put less strain on the anchoring equipment. “With the daily changing wind speed during the Shamal periods, it is important that anchoring conditions are assessed by the Master for all expected conditions, especially if anchoring at night”, the Club said. This could result in the vessel placing more chain than expected for the current conditions. Greater lengths of anchoring chain not only provide a greater holding power, but also disperse the stress on the chain over a greater distance, reducing the effect on any one particular area of chain. The increased waiting time at anchorages might also require using more shackles of chain.

In the event the Master believes the conditions might cause a danger to the vessel or potentially damage the anchor, the Club said that the Master “should consider heaving the anchor and either re-anchoring in a safer position or using engines to hold position”. The Master might even decide to leave the anchorage and head for deeper or more sheltered waters to ride out the storm. The Club said that it was “important for the Master to assess the situation with ample time to decide and act accordingly”.

Another factor that would affect the loss of the anchors in the areas is the depth of the water at anchorage. The Club said that it was “important to ensure that a designated anchorage is of a suitable depth and in a location that allows the vessels to swing safely”.

If a vessel is walking back and letting go the anchor, at these depths it could be difficult to control, resulting in burn out of the windlass brakes/damages to the windlass and other issues.

The nature of the seabed in some of the major ports in the Middle East can vary from sand to mud or clay. When assessing the seabed suitability, the Club said that the Master had to be aware of the holding ground, so that the optimal anchoring procedure can be ascertained.

When an anchor loss incident is notified to the Club, Members must inform the Club whether a wreck removal order has been issued.

Some authorities in the region may not issue a formal wreck, anchor or debris removal order, but they may instead submit the request in an email sent to the Members or their local agents. Such communications might be deemed sufficient enough to constitute a request for the Club to consider it as a lawful wreck removal obligation as per the Club rules, Shipowners’ Club said.

The accurate location of where the anchor was lost was particularly important. This would make it easier for the divers to find the location and achieve a successful recovery. Further details of the anchor and any lost shackle cables would provide useful information which could help narrow the search, expedite the contracting process and allow the operation to be signed off as concluded more promptly.

From a P&I perspective it is important to establish the value of any anchor and other equipment being recovered. “If the value of the recovered property exceeds the operation costs, then there will be no P&I claim”, the Club said.

If the recovered property has a value lower than the recovery operation costs, then this may be deducted from those costs before reimbursement.

Once a quotation is received for the search and removal operation a review is necessary to assess whether the costs are reasonable.

Things to note include whether the costs are for a lump sum, based on success, or pro-rated or capped at a fixed number of dives for a fixed number of days.

In the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar a search and removal operation may be more expensive than in other areas, especially if there are restrictions on which contractors can carry out work in the relevant area. In Qatar the ports often have internal resources to deploy divers. They invoice the Members for each dive at an agreed price. This avoids the need for approvals and paperwork if a third-party company is to be employed.

Even where a daily or hourly rate contract is agreed, it was recommended to receive an estimate of the costs beforehand and to acquire interim updates after each dive, rather than leaving the operation open for an indefinite period.

The Club said that, in complex cases, a local correspondent could normally assist in running a tender of suitable local companies.