Lawrence Graham: Planning Needed to Avoid Straits Delays

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
London law firm Lawrence Graham says shipping interests involved in Black Sea trading should plan ahead to protect against the risk of the lengthy delays which can be encountered in transiting the Turkish Straits. Severe winter weather and restrictions on nighttime tanker movements resulted in protracted delays during this past winter, and the problems were compounded by an attempt by the Turkish maritime authorities to clarify regulations governing the paperwork required to transit the straits. Writing in the latest issue of Shipping Lawgram, the newsletter of the Lawrence Graham shipping team, partner Imogen Rumbold says the clarification issued by the Turkish Department of Maritime Affairs last October "led to confusion amongst owners and agents and introduced contradictions and complications into what had until then been a relatively simple procedure." Before October 2002, ships could telex their sailing plans and then rely on local agents to submit copies of the required back-up documents. Now it is necessary for vessels to submit their sailing plans, accompanied by their P&I club certificate, their IOPC certificate, their last port state control form and evidence of payment of light dues. The changes in the rules make telex submission impossible, and many vessels are being caught out because they can't submit the right documents by fax. The Turkish authorities are trying to address the problem by putting in place a VTMS system to cover the entire straits, and by conducting a review of how the regulations are being applied. "Meanwhile," says Imogen Rumbold, "owners and charterers can help themselves by thinking ahead. Firstly, a clear and unambiguous Turkish Straits clause should be inserted into charter parties. Intertanko published a model clause in March this year which had had some take-up but which has usually been modified to make it slightly less owner-friendly. We have seen some disputes over demurrage resulting from poorly drafted clauses, so attention to this point at the time of negotiations is vital. "Owners can also plan ahead and work with a solid local agent who can submit documents on behalf of the ship when the ship sends in its sailing plan. "If you are involved in Black Sea trading, don't wait for the authorities to clarify their clarification. Act quickly now to protect yourselves, or risk dire delays at the straits."
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