Know your cargo - likely scenario if you do not

Loss Prevention

Published: 1 December 2010

What happened?

The vessel was loading sunflower seed oil, and the crew on board was there at the manifold taking samples. What was seen was a very 'muddy' looking commodity with small black particles found inside. Loading was stopped immediately.

What was the result?

The decision to stop loading was to limit cargo liability, if any, to the volume of the already loaded cargo. However, the other side of the coin was a time delay waiting for test results. The cargo was tested at a laboratory, and it turned out that the cargo was actually on spec, and not as suspected off spec.

Why did it happen?

A 'muddy' manifold sample is naturally a cause for concern and the Master is faced with a dilemma. Either he faces a cargo claim, if the source of the contamination is not found (suspicion will be that it is on board), or a time delay if the decision in hindsight to stop loading can be questioned? The decision has to be taken immediately. If the Master waits, both types of 'problems' will increase with time. Not making a decision is the only 'choice' that is not acceptable. The decision was based on a visual inspection that clearly would raise concern for a non-sunflower-seed-expert. In this situation, the Master decided that the time delay was the best option.

What can we learn?

Stop loading serves two purposes:

  1. The cargo sellers/buyers are being made aware of the problem with the specs, and can decide on this additional information, and
  2. If there is something wrong, any liability will be limited to a very small part of the parcel.

A reason for the master to hesitate to not stop the loading is that time is money. The owners will face a 'delay claim' from the charterers when waiting for the tests results. The master has wide discretion, however, being the person on board, visually seeing the cargo. And even if it turns out he is wrong, laytime/demurrage could still be running, as long as the delay and actions are found to be within his discretion.

Unfortunately, this can only be judged by an arbitrator or a judge, long time after the situation has passed and it might not be possible to be guided in any other way than what common sense tells the master.

First of all, the thing to remember is to have crew on board that vigilantly monitor the loading at the manifold. Secondly, train the crew to become familiar with the type of cargo to be carried, in order for them to stop loading if they believe, based on their experience and common sense that there is something wrong. Then you seldom go wrong, when that quick decision needs to be made. Even though loading was stopped and the cargo was found to be in order the decision to stop was correct.