Standard Club warns of Increased risk of hull fouling due to COVID-19

Standard Club has noted that one of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been that more ships than ever had been left floating at anchor. This, the Club said, meant that they were more likely to suffer from hull fouling – a natural process that occurs within the first few hours of a new ship entering the water. However, Standard Club noted that there were a variety of factors that could increase the rate of hull fouling. These included the design and construction of the ship, maintenance history, and in particular whether the ship had been stationary for long periods of time.

Standard Club warned that owners had an overriding legal responsibility to maintain the ship and would usually be responsible for cleaning the hull.

The Club said that, in the absence of any express contractual provisions, owners were unlikely to be able to shift this burden to their charterers where the ship had been idle as a result the ordinary and expected course of trading in accordance with charterers’ legitimate orders.

Aside from the increased maintenance costs associated with hull fouling, the increased drag could severely impact the ship’s performance. If the impact on performance was especially serious and a ship was no longer able to perform at the standards previously agreed in the charterparty, “her owners may see an increased number of performance claims from their charterers”, said Standard Club.

The success of any such claim would depend on whether owners had assumed the risk of speed and performance issues caused by hull fouling, which would require an assessment of the specific charterparty wording.

Standard Club said that, if not done so already, members might want to consider incorporating the BIMCO Hull Fouling Clause into their charterparties. This clause allows the parties to agree in writing when exactly the responsibility for hull cleaning, and liability for associated losses, passes from owner to charterer. This aims to increase clarity and avoid any ambiguity, which should in theory reduce the number of disputes requiring litigation, the Club said.

Apart from the contractual issues caused by hull fouling, Standard Club noted that owners should also be aware of national regulations which outline hull cleanliness standards.

Since May 2018 it has been mandatory for any ships calling at ports in New Zealand to comply with hull cleanliness thresholds set out in the country’s ‘Craft Risk Management Standard’.

Standard Club warned that the consequences of non-compliance with national regulations could be serious for shipowners.