Tension between charterers and shipowners over vetting of tankers for quality and safety has reached new heights, with owners calling for more consistent behaviour from charterers.
The situation is now so bad that owners are demanding a common industry standard on vetting: at present, it is left to charterers to interpret safety and quality requirements, which confuses owners because one charterer may reject a ship while another will accept it.
This lack of a common approach by charterers costs time and money, forcing owners to devote more resources to ensure that their ships are prepared correctly.
“It’s made much more difficult by the fact that all the companies we deal with have different standards,” Essberger Tankers managing director Hugo Finlay told the International Parcel Tankers Association and Navigate product and chemical tanker conference in London.
Other owners and operators agreed that the problem needs to be addressed now.
“When are we going to sort this out?” asked one tanker operator who preferred to remain anonymous.
Essberger Tankers, which has almost 50 contracts with all the major oil companies, outlined a scenario that starkly illustrates the problem. A ship was due to load enough cargo for two customers, but the first customer accepted the ship while the second rejected it. The ship therefore had to sail carrying only 1,000 tonnes for the first customer, making the voyage inefficient.
Another example involved a customer questioning the placement of a stern anchor light on a particular ship, while other customers did not find the placing particularly relevant. “It’s another example of an inspector with a bee in his bonnet,” said Mr Finlay.
“It becomes something pretty major, which occupies a lot of time and has the potential to have the ship rejected. We’re investing a heck of a lot of money and training and time to get all our ships approved by all our customers.”
Another problem arises if an inspector is unavailable before the Ship Inspection Report Programme expires, which can again lead to the ship being rejected through no fault of the owner.
In some cases, if a ship is rejected three times in a row, it is banned from loading cargo for life. To make matters worse, some customers refuse to explain why they have rejected a particular ship. “So we cannot use the inspection report to learn from it,” said Mr Finlay.
Essberger Tankers employs about six people in vetting. Costs for this division amount to €300,000-€800,000 ($388,000-$1m) per year.
Essberger stresses its focus on safety and quality. “We’re certainly not anti-vetting,” said Mr Finlay.
What the company is calling for, along with other owners, is a common industry standard — even if that demands higher standards of quality and safety from owners.
“At least we will know where we stand,” said Mr Finlay.
A common standard would benefit everyone because there would be fewer rejections, ultimately creating a bigger pool of tankers from which charterers could choose, he said.
Chemical Marine, a service provider that vets chemical tanker training and support, argued that there would be no problem if both charterers and owners applied the highest standards.
Owners, however, criticised this argument, saying that standards are already high and that it is customers’ varying interpretations of the vetting procedures that creates the problem.