North of England P&I C club has said that disputes over damage to vessels’ cranes during cargo operations regularly arose. Invariably, the shipowner would blame rough handling by stevedores; they in turn would allege that the crane was defective or not properly maintained.
Author Simon MacLeod said that determining who was responsible for damages caused to ship’s equipment could be difficult to prove, but that usually it would hinge on who has maintained the most detailed evidence.
There was frequently a provision within a charterparty that obliged the vessel owner to ensure that the cranes were fully functional and fit to use and were made available to stevedores as required. Should the cargo handling equipment not be available or they breakdown during use, then the vessel usually would be placed off hire for the time lost. However, if the damage was caused as a result of a stevedore’s action then the vessel would remain on hire.
The costs associated with the damage to cranes, delays in discharge or loss of hire could be significant, said North. Therefore it was essential that detailed evidence was collected. The Club said that a number of crane damage claims had failed because of a lack of evidence, supplying one example with London Arbitration 15/13.
“The claimant claimed US$10,000 in respect of replacing the damaged hoisting wire…It submitted that …the stevedores had agreed to the statement “All cargo gear is in good working order… and …fully functional”….the issue was whether the claimant had proved on a balance of probabilities that the damage occurred as a result of “rough handling” of the equipment by the stevedores….There was no direct evidence in the form of witness statements or otherwise as to the way in which the stevedores carried out any inspection of the equipment or the discharge operation, and the stevedores had denied that there was any mishandling on their part. No metallurgical evidence had been presented which would help to identify the cause of the failure on any scientific basis…Accordingly the Claimant’s claim to recover the cost of replacing the wire failed.”
North said that having the stevedores certify the condition of the equipment might not assist in resolving a dispute as this would not disprove pre-existing damage or a latent defect which could not be detected by a visual inspection.
To demonstrate that vessel cranes were well maintained and fully operational, detailed records should be preserved, confirming that a comprehensive inspection and planned maintenance programme was in place, that all equipment was certified and in good condition and that any defects were identified and promptly repaired.
A “Register of Lifting Appliance and Register of Cargo Gear” should be maintained onboard. This Register should include:
· details of the lifting equipment;
· test certificates;
· details of thorough examinations and regular inspections carried out;
· details of maintenance schedules, overhauls, wire changes; and
· any other pertinent information relating to the equipment.
The planned maintenance programme should incorporate the manufacturer’s requirements for periodic checks and maintenance of the equipment.
All equipment should be inspected before, during and after use. This ensured that all parts of the equipment were properly lubricated, free from damage and that all limit switches and safety devices were fully operational. All inspections and maintenance carried out should be documented. A photographic record might prove useful.
It was important that the stevedores’ operation of the cranes was observed throughout cargo operations. If the cranes were being handled improperly it was essential to raise any concerns at the time.
Photographs or video footage of crane operations would greatly assist in determining the cause of any damages that may arise. “As was identified in the London Arbitration decision referred to earlier, witness statements will form a critical part of any evidence collection.”