Vessel declares General Average? Do not panic!

On 17th October last year, at about 8.50 AM, we received a call from a client with steel cargo on board a vessel from Italy towards France which ran aground at the south coast of Corsica. LOF Salvage form was signed and vessel was safely floated and towed to Fos sur Mer, France. Ship owners declared General Average and requested salvage and general average securities from our clients and their cargo insurers. DP Legal was appointed to coordinate the matter and take the necessary steps to protect interests involved.

Considering that the vessel did not turn in time and failed to respond to various calls from the local authorities for nearly 50 minutes before grounding, we had serious suspicion that the officer of the watch fell asleep during his duty, based on which we immediately involved our in-house cargo survey team and nautical engineer, the latter flying over from Antwerp to Fos-sur-Mer to board the vessel on 22nd October 2019 which was refused. Also the next day, our surveyor did not get permission to carry out a nautical survey.

Through the assistance of our French lawyers, DP Legal managed to obtain an order to appoint a court surveyor who attended on board on 24th October together with our lawyers, our in-house nautical surveyor and our local, French nautical surveyor. The vessel was not detained and sailed later on to final port of destination Arles where a second court survey meeting was held on board, again with our surveyors and lawyers attending with the aim to collect crew statements and ship’s documents in view of determining the cause of the grounding.

Simultaneously, DP Legal arranged for General Average and Salvage securities in order to have the (sound) cargo released without delays, which was completed on 25th October 2019.

Considering that preliminary investigations revealed that the officer of the watch indeed fell asleep and that the dead man alarm was switched off, DP Legal decided to obtain proper P&I counter security basis the full value of the cargo. As we did not get cooperation from ship owners and their representatives in providing such security, we were compelled to arrest the vessel which was on her way to shipyard in Turkey for repairs. The Turkish Court ruled in our favor and the vessel was successfully arrested on 5th November 2019, only to be released upon production of a P&I Letter of Undertaking, which we finally obtained on 22nd November 2019

Actions taken by DP Legal between 17th October and 22nd November 2019 to protect cargo interests:

  1. Coordinate discharge survey to inspect condition of the cargo;
  2. Organize nautical survey and coordinate court survey in France to collect necessary evidence on the cause of the grounding;
  3. Arrange for General Average and Salvage securities in order to have the cargo released without delays;
  4. Obtain P&I Letter of Undertaking for the full cargo value through vessel arrest in Turkey.

The French court surveyor recently finalized his report and concluded what we suspected from the beginning: inexperienced crew members combined with working hours exceeding the MLC limits and the dead man alarm being switched off, were the main causes of the grounding.

Quite a hectic month for the different teams of DP Survey Group involved, but we successfully managed to prepare ourselves for the day on which the General Average Adjustment will be issued. Looking forward to that.