Bangladesh, Chittagong: Broken fenders and berth safety

FFO Claims

Published: 10 February 2015

Members are alerted to the poor state of fenders at berths in Chittagong, which may give rise to both ship and shore damage. The situation is serious and it is a risk that a pollution or other significant event could follow.

The situation

Chittagong is the main gateway for Bangladesh's seaborne trade and handles the majority of the country's imports and exports. As such it is a very busy place and members calling there will be aware of a number of challenges that require keen attention for the duration of any port of call.

Most recently the Association was made aware of a serious problem affecting the fendering at some of the berths and jetties.

The basic construction is of two vertical steel "I" bars, that are meant to have solid timber fronts so that there would be no direct steel to steel contact between the ship's hull and the fender steel structure.

Unfortunately a number of locations show these arrangements to be in a poor state of repair, with badly maintained sections, broken sections and places where the timber is altogether missing.

This situation represents risks to both ship and shore, particularly the risks of:

  1. hull damage
  2. ingress of water in to the vessel's structure
  3. oil / other pollution should fuel or cargo tanks be damaged
  4. damage to shore side

In the Loss Prevention Bulletin of PandiAsia, reproduced alongside this advisory, the situation is explained in greater detail. Even members familiar with Chittagong should make reference to the same before the next port of call.

Loss prevention advice

Should members consider calling at Chittagong, or should a vessel be ordered there, then it would be prudent to contact agents in advance to check which berth / jetty the vessel is likely to be brought in to, and to have a visual check conducted in advance of berthing.

If the general arrangement should be found to be of concern, then the vessel should not proceed in to berth until a further risk assessment is carried out and the berthing arrangement is considered in greater detail.

Equally, should a master see that his vessel is being brought alongside a berth with broken or poor fendering then he needs to prioritise the safety of the vessel and crew, as well as mitigate against the risk of a pollution incident. That may mean having to abandon the berthing operation if the risk to the vessel is clear and immediate.

In all circumstances a master or member should consider making urgent contact with the Association's correspondents if they are concerned about a vessel being brought alongside a berth with poor or broken fendering arrangements.

Safe berth warranties

With respect to responsibility for the safety of a berth, this is likely to come down to the precise nature of any warranty that may be given in time or voyage charterparties.

A port or berth may be legally unsafe should the factual situation present a risk to the vessel.

These issues have been addressed in case law in The Houston City [1956] 1 Lloyd's Rep. 1 (P.C.) as well as in The Carnival [1994] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 14 (C.A.).

In the former case, the port had a number of issues, including a missing section of fendering which (amongst other reasons) led the Privy Council to conclude that the port was unsafe. In the more recent case, on appeal to the Court of Appeal, the finding of the trial judge was upheld with respect to the fendering at the berth being unsafe due to the nature of its design.

It needs to be kept in mind, however, that safety warranties may be expressed in both absolute as well as due diligence terms and members need to be aware of the legal nature of any specific warranty that they may either give or receive.

Should members be in doubt as to their contractual responsibility under a given charterparty, then it would be prudent to consult with the Association's claims handlers for a review.

Other issues at Chittagong

Over the years the Association has frequently dealt with claims at Chittagong and would advise of the following further risks:

  • a. the anchorage can be crowded, which means that careful navigation is necessary while in its vicinity
  • b. strong currents / tides can affect the anchorage at times which again call for careful navigation as well as anchoring arrangements
  • c. there is a great volume of small ship and local vessel traffic that poses a challenge for navigating in this area
  • d. depths at berths may be low leading to touch bottom situations
  • e. cargo claims, particularly shortage claims, are a frequent issue for both dry bulk and liquid bulk cargoes
  • f. theft and robberies at anchorage

Members and masters with extensive experience of Chittgaong are likely to have experience of at least some of these issues, but for all members and masters the advice is to prepare in advance for the particular challenges of a port call at Chittagong and to seek prompt assistance from the Association and its correspondents whenever there is a concern. Often situations are best addressed early on, which can lead to successful mitigation and management of claim issues.

Should members have a vessel specific enquiry, they are asked to contact their usual Skuld business unit.

The Association is grateful to correspondents PandiAsia for assisting with this update.