The importance of passage planning – CMA CGM Libra

UK P&I Club has commented on the importance of good passage planning, following an $800,000 ruling by the English Admiralty Court on the CMA CGM Libra case, involving a grounded container vessel and a dispute over General Average.

(See also North of England’s comments on this case, IMN April 29th)

Ben Johnson, Senior Claims Executive, noted that, despite logistical and technological advancement within voyage planning, human error and poorly executed processes could present risks to cargo and the safety of crew, and make any resultant claims void – thus costing shipowners substantial amounts in lost revenue.

CMA CGM Libra, laden with cargo with a value in excess of $500m, as well as about 8,000 tons of bunkers, grounded on a shoal while sailing out of Xiamen port in China through a recognized dredged channel that was marked by lit buoys. The vessel’s owners CMA CGM alleged the shoal was uncharted.

About 8% of cargo interests refused to pay cargo’s contribution to General Average expenses of approximately $800,000, on the grounds that the Master was at fault for the grounding.

The court found that:

·       the absence of an adequate passage plan was causative of the grounding;

·       the vessel owners did not exercise due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy as required by the Hague Visby Rules (Article III Rule 1);

·       the passage plan prepared by the second officer did not refer to the existence of a crucial Preliminary Notice to Mariners alerting mariners to the presence of numerous depths less than charted in the approaches to Xiamen;

·       the passage plan did not refer to any “no-go areas” which had not been marked or identified on the chart.

Ultimately, cargo interests successfully defended the vessel Owner’s claim and were not required to contribute the $800,000 in General Average.

The incident occurred in 2011, when there was no SOLAS requirement for the vessel to carry electronic charts. If this incident had occurred in 2019 then, provided the passage plan on the electronic chart included a reference to the notice, it might not be defective and, as a result, the vessel might well have been seaworthy at the commencement of the voyage.

Johnson noted that the display format of such Notices to Mariners varied between system types and might not be displayed automatically.

“Whether ultimately the use of an electronic chart would have prevented the grounding is a moot point but it is notable that the Master did state in evidence that he would not have made such an alteration if he had known of the warning”, observed Johnson.

He concluded that this was “an important decision which highlights the utmost importance of careful and accurate passage planning by the navigational officers on board. Poor passage planning can lead to groundings, collisions, the endangering of crew, as well as significant financial costs for ship owners”.