Ship`s condition and shipowner: new times - old story

P&I condition surveys refer to inspections meant to assess the condition of a ship from a great many aspects including the following major ones: seaworthiness, cargoworthiness, risk of incident, ability to struggle for survival and salvage of the crew and cargo in force-majeure circumstances.

Most such inspections in Ukraine are ordered for vessels owned by ex-giant BLASCO and other big shipowing companies which used to be part of the system of the Ministry of Transport of the former USSR. Now that the USSR collapsed and so did BLASCO and status of other state shipowning companies changed several characteristic points jump to the eye upon performance by the author of this article of several tens of full P&I condition surveys for P&I Clubs.

In BLASCO's good times despite the drawbacks of the socialist system most vessels received adequate technical management and maintenance. This was ensured among other things by a sufficient quantity of high-class specialists: officers and crew expert at their jobs. Over the recent years the majority of professionals enrolled to ships of foreign companies. Due to financial difficulties technical management and maintenance of most Ukrainian vessels became extremely scarce. Insufficient maintenance practically always reveals itself in unpainted, rust scale affected weather decks, shell plating, ballast tanks; non-watertight and/or not fully operable hatch closing devices, absence of lubricating materials, defective ballast-pumping system, cargo handling gears requiring maintenance and so on. Non-working and/or wasted boat davits, anchor/mooring gears in need of repairs are also often to see. In the engine room one encounters shortage of spares, leaks of oil and exhaust gases. Most mechanisms are in working condition yet require either repairs or maintenance. Thereby the Shipowner gets beside himself with indignation when sees a detailed list of above defects and deficiencies compiled by a surveyor. The Owner's position is steadfast: there are some defects in condition of hull and mechanisms (although of course not as many as listed) but they are not material to the general good condition of the ship, so why mention them at all?

In the last 2-3 years several operator companies have formed on the basis of ex-BLASCO departments with a right of technical management of vessels, including those formerly or presently owned by BLASCO. These companies do not disregard improvement of the vessels' condition, supplies and crew. Nevertheless it is sometimes the case that their promises and intentions to supply a ship with some equipment and/or repairs are not kept and during P&I inspection this naturally results in additional items appearing on the surveyor's list of defects/deficiencies which arouses loud and active protest of the Shipowner (operator), frequently expressed against the very number of items! Using the repute of a serious company taking care of ship's condition and supplies, guarantee letters and changes of the ship's flag a Shipowner sometimes manages to obtain certificates of the Classification Society with part of maintenance jobs only formally fulfilled. Major items may be brought in compliance with all requirements before the ship's departure for the voyage, while minor things which do not function, require repairs/maintenance/renewal sometimes pass under the class rules.

And further a Shipowner uses the fact of issue of Classification Society certificates as a "winning" argument to persuade a P&I surveyor that inclusion of minor deficiencies on his list of defects is wrong and irrelevant. The reason for which is an understandable desire of the Shipowner to complete repairs and launch the vessel in the soonest possible time and have it insured at the best premiums (show the company to advantage), the guarantee for which is seen in the minimal quantity of defect items. Superintendent in charge of repairs is normally instructed to set the vessel for the voyage without any reprimand and the Shipowner is naturally shocked to see a long list of defects. What is unnatural from our point of view is his ardour to come to grips with a P&I surveyor instead of coming to grips with the defects.

Lately in Ukraine there has been an increase in number of river-going vessels with a deadweight of up to 5,000 mt additionally equipped and strengthened for sea voyages with a restricted area of navigation. Such vessels belong to former state companies owning several tens of them or joint ventures and private companies with 3-10 ships in ownership. Some such vessels meet all requirements of classification societies for the vessels of their class, enjoy excellent maintenance and technical management. However not few are ships whose condition may be characterised by one word and the word is "poor". Wherever a P&I condition surveyor's eye casts a glance, his hand has to record a deficiency on the list growing as a snow ball up to 100-150 items.

By way of conclusion I should remark that despite a still considerable amount of vessels badly lacking repairs and maintenance care of shipowners about the condition of their vessels becomes more and more noticeable. This I presume may be a positive effect of steadier and more regular market of sea carriages, growth of shipowners' income as well as stringent requirements of international maritime Conventions and insurance companies.