Making things happen

In a hard to reach port in an unstable part of the Middle East, a large iron ore unloader was knocked off its rails during an unberthing operation. The unloader straddled strategic oil pipelines supplying the country with benzene, and as a result of the incident, had become unstable. The port authority demanded that the shipowner reinstate the unloader, they detained the ship and placed a hold on the ship agent’s funds.

The complex political environment and the strategic sensitivities of the case meant that a representative of the shipowner and its insurer was required on site. I was deployed as a trusted intermediary to make face-to-face contact with all the parties involved. I was able to reassure them of the shipowner’s commitment to repair the unloader and negotiated overlapping agreements with the port authority, repair contractors and port agents to enable the repairs to take place, and the ship was released without further delay.

Quick settlement

A ship was arrested in a Red Sea port in connection with an allegation that it had caused an explosion in an adjacent grain silo. The claimant required a bank guarantee for a very considerable amount in order to release the ship, but the ship operator and his insurer were unable to find a bank willing to provide this. There were also concerns about whether a bank guarantee would be safe and its conditions respected in the local jurisdiction.

I was able to negotiate a cash settlement with the claimant in four days for an amount that the ship operator and his insurer could accept. The ship was released promptly and a lengthy off-hire dispute with time charterers was avoided.

Political deadlock

A bulk carrier collided with, and severely damaged a brand new container gantry crane in a new, flagship container-handling terminal in a Middle East port. Port authority officials had, under pressure, made a massive multi-million dollar claim for the cost of repairs and for consequential losses that were far in excess of the ship’s legal limitation amount provided for under local legislation. In the ensuing deadlock, the ship had been arrested for more than six months and the health of the crew onboard was deteriorating.

Working together, the shipowner’s local team and I made a successful representation to the Minister of Transport that created the political opportunity for the port authority to reduce its demand and release the ship against the payment of the limitation amount.

Stranded cargo

In North Africa, I was asked to investigate why a ship laden with bagged rice was not being discharged by the cargo receiver, which was a local state owned trading company. The investigation pointed to corruption amongst senior executives in this company – officials who were too senior for the local P&I correspondent to reach.

Using my own connections to establish a link to a close advisor to the country’s President, I was able to find a face-saving solution that allowed the cargo to be discharged and the ship to sail.

Crew intimidation

I made face-to-face representations to the port manager in a remote port in the Horn of Africa, to help stop the intimidation of the ship’s crew by a powerful local cargo receiver. This intervention created time for the ship’s P&I insurer to negotiate a reasonable settlement of a significant cargo damage claim with the seller of the cargo and its insurer in Europe.

Later, I had the opportunity to inform the government of a neighbouring inland country about the enthusiastic support we received from the port manager. This positive feedback turned out to be the tipping point in a process that within weeks led to a transit agreement between the inland country and the port.

Legal uncertainty

A ship approaching a port in a Central American country lost 21 containers overboard in heavy weather. Due to a new and uncertain administrative law in that country, the Director of its Maritime Administration Authority acted arbitrarily against both the ship and, separately, the captain.

Working on the ground, we were able to bring this to the attention of the country’s leadership and persuade it that these actions were unreasonable and not in the strategic interests of the country, leading to the release of both ship and captain.

Civil unrest

Angry protests erupted against the crew of a ship in a West African port after rumours circulated that the crew had murdered a number of local stowaways discovered hiding on the ship. Although the local authorities did not have the capability to board the ship, which was anchored at a river berth, they were able to withhold the services of a river pilot who was essential for a difficult passage down the river to open sea.

I was instructed to make representations in person to officials in the country’s Ministry of Justice and the local government. Subsequently, as an independent mediator, I was able to identify the local political pressure that these officials were under, which in turn opened the door for a negotiation to provide a face-saving solution for the politicians as well as the safety of the ship’s crew. If the shipowners had attended in person, they would have been lynched by a mob or imprisoned by the authorities.

Delicate situation

A ship at an outer anchorage in Bangladesh had completed discharge and had all the papers necessary for departure. However, before the anchors were lifted, the Port Authority notified the Captain that the ship had been arrested for a financial guarantee against a new cargo claim, and that the relevant Court order was being taken to the ship by small boat. The ship disregarded this notice and sailed. However, shortly after this, the time charterer of a sister ship issued a bill of lading requiring delivery of the cargo on board to this same port.

I was instructed by the shipowner to meet with officials from the Court and negotiated a deal to ensure that punitive action would not be taken against the sister ship when it arrived to discharge its cargo.

Cargo fraud

A small uninsured refrigerated cargo ship was arrested at an up river port in West Africa for USD1.1 million for alleged damage to cargo, which influential local receivers claimed had had to be destroyed by order of the local phytosanitary authority. I deployed to the port and through careful investigation, I established that the destruction certificate presented by the receivers was fraudulent and that the cargo had been sold, not destroyed. After forcible representations by my associate to the receivers, the claim was settled for a small face-saving sum and the ship released.

Exercising liens

I have been retained several times to assist ship operators and their lawyers to exercise difficult liens for unpaid hire and the costs of discharging cargoes in the Middle East and the EU. The lawyers acted to protect the shipowners’ formal positions. I supported these actions on the front line, and provided a channel for informal discussions and without prejudice negotiations.