West Africa: STS operations

Port news

Published: 3 March 2015

Members need to be aware of increased regulation and control being exercised by coastal states of western Africa in relation to Ship to Ship transfer operations that may take place in national waters or Exclusive Economic Zones.

Control of STS operations

West African countries have started to take a keener interest in Ship to Ship (STS) transfer operations that may be taking place in national waters (12 nm zone) or in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ - 200 nm).

The reasons for this involve a number of factors, including:

  • Concerns over smuggling and evasion of duties
  • Security concerns with respect to piracy and other sea borne crime

The Association's correspondents in the Republic of Congo have advised that the local merchant marine authority must be given advance notification of any STS operation, and provide approval before it may go ahead. A fee of up to FCFA 5,000,000 (about EUR7,600) may be charged for this approval process.

A STS performed without such approval may result in significant fines and other legal action being taken.

Further information received would indicate that the Angolan authorities also require advance clearance of any STS. Which specifically means notifying the Angolan navy of any planned operation.

Information to be provided to the Angolan navy

  • Names and IMO numbers of involved vessels
  • Likely date of the operation
  • The location of the operation
  • Identifying the name the cargo to be transferred and the quantity

Upon completion of the operation, a Statement of Facts (SOF) should be submitted to the Angolan navy.

A failure to comply with these requirements may lead to an arrest of the vessel, fines and / or other consequences.

Commercial risk management

The decision to agree to a STS, be it in advance of a voyage or on an ad hoc basis, should always follow a careful risk management analysis.

There are a number of physical STS issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure any such operation is done safely. Including a pre-STS assessment of the planned operation as well as a careful monitoring throughout.

From experience it has been shown that STS operations come with the risk of both pollution incidents, physical damage to the involved vessels, as well as the risks of injury and fatalities, if such operations are not conducted carefully.

In addition there is a need to conduct a commercial risk analysis, which covers the nature of the commercial situation, legal obligations and responsibilities as well as regulatory compliance obligations.

It would be prudent to ensure that either by incorporation of a suitable STS clause, or by a properly drafted ad hoc agreement, these matters are appropriately addressed. That includes ensuring that the necessary regulatory approval is obtained in advance, and evidence of the same should be provided to the masters of the involved vessels prior to the commencement of any operation.

Should, as part of the commercial arrangement, any indemnities be offered then a due diligence exercise will be necessary to ensure that such indemnities will have both the desired legal effect, and that the entity or person giving the same will be able to fulfil their side of the deal if the indemnity needs to be called upon (important to note is that such indemnity situations may take a matter outside the scope of basic insurance coverage).

If in doubt it is better to pause and clarify the situation then to proceed without confirmation that it is physically or legally safe to do so.

The risk of piracy

Members will be aware of the continuing risk of piracy in certain areas along the west coast of Africa. While most incidents appear to be in and around the Gulf of Guinea, there have been reports of incidents as far south as Angola.

Vessels that are stationary during a STS operation may be at particular risk, as they cannot seek to use navigation to fend off of an attack.

Furthermore there have been instances where a purported STS operation may have been a ruse to lure a vessel in to an ambush.

Therefore it is advisable to seek to conduct operations in areas where protection can be afforded by authorised bodies of the local coastal state. In this regard it is important to note that it may not always be possible to have foreign security personnel on board a vessel, be it armed or unarmed.

Security arrangements do merit a further separate risk analysis and appropriate management measures to be implemented.

Further reading

Members may wish to have further reference to Skuld's advice on STS operations in the context of the oil storage trade, in the "Contango and tankers" member advisory.

Piracy advice related to the Gulf of Guinea, and the applicable insight section are also available.

Intertanko has also released a draft clause to be used in charterparties for STS operations.

For vessel specific enquiries, members are asked to contact their usual Skuld business unit.

For further information, members are asked to contact the Loss Prevention team: lossprevention@skuld.com

The Association is grateful to Messrs Eltvedt & O'Sullivan as well as Budd SA for contributing to this update.