Importance of marine surveyors to judicial process

Marine surveyors play an important role in shipping, however their roles are sometimes not appreciated by parties. They are important for the shipping transaction and they are crucial in disputes, to testify on evidence which the courts and tribunals will need to assess.

Recently, I handled a Sale of a Vessel arrested under a Warrant of Arrest in the Admiralty Court. As the plaintiff’s arresting lawyer, we had to engaged a surveyor to assess the value of the vessel for the Admiralty Sheriff so that the Court could arrive at an assessed value for the Sale Pendente Lite. 

In the normal sale of vessels, a surveyor will be able to assess the value for the potential purchaser so that the purchaser can decide whether the offered price is reasonable or whether they need to negotiate further. For newbuilds, the surveyor will assess whether the completed vessel meets the contractual specifications and will be able to also monitor the testing and commissioning of the vessel.

When vessels are registered, the Flag Authorities will need to conduct surveys before entering the vessel into record. They have their own surveyors but sometimes they will outsource this.

When bulk cargo of large quantities is shipped, the receivers may provide for an outturn survey to determine whether the stated quantity in the sale contract is actually delivered. Similarly, the surveyor for bulk liquid cargo will take samples at load and discharge ports to have on record the sample to ensure that the contractual specifications and quality are maintained. Where there are allegations of contamination, these samples will become crucial. For shipment of outsized cargo on deck or on barges, the survey will be able to show and monitor the adequacy of securing, and also the manner of towage.

In terms of preserving evidence, the survey report becomes paramount. The timely appointment of the surveyor will determine whether a claim succeeds or not. Most cargo insurance only operates during transit. If a receiver does not pay close attention to the received cargo, he may allow the damaged cargo to be received and kept in his warehouse and only notice the damages when the cargo is needed. If this occurs sometime later, the surveyor that investigates may not be able to conclusively determine that the damages occurred before the warehouse and that will mean that the policy will not engage for the loss.

Where surveyors attend on board the vessel, they can call for a joint survey, where surveyors appointed by cargo and ship owners or their P&I Club will jointly attend and determine the loss, possible causes and quantum of loss. This will go a long way to proving the claim.

Ship collisions and casualties are incidents where the surveyors’ input is crucial. Some maritime law firms have Master Mariners who are able to conduct evidence-taking from the crew, conduct angle of blow surveys and whether the masters had complied with COLREG. The evidence gathered will support the case in dispute. 

Damaged cargoes may have residual values. Surveyors will assist cargo owners and insurers to mitigate the loss by conducting a salvage sale.

There are specialist surveyors, in a general average claim, a general average adjuster will adjust for the various interests to derive at the proportion of general average contribution by the respective parties. The Salvage Association established in London in 1856 with overseas branches have qualified surveyors able to undertake surveys for vessels and cargo.

Some cases call for specialists. In a dangerous goods cargo case, which I conducted in the Admiralty Court where the chemicals exploded and sank the vessel, I had engaged a specialist fire investigator to establish the cause of the explosion. There was a disagreement between the two experts which meant that the Admiralty Judge had to choose one expert over the other. However, the judge required the two experts to engage in a “hot tubbing” exercise and so that joint findings could be obtained.

Photo credit: iStock/ Iam Anupong

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