BIMCO has always been a powerful enemy against the corruption that lurks in the maritime world. Indeed, the world’s largest international shipping organisation might be considered one of the few effective sources a ship operator can turn to, when corrupt practices in foreign ports have become too much to bear.
Everyone operating ships is aware of what might be described as the “low-level”, but insidious, graft and corruption that remains present in so many parts of the world.
The demand for gifts of spirits or cigarettes as a normal part of the clearance procedure, by port officials or customs might be thought of as the “entry-level” practice in some ports, which, however, can magnify mightily, with “inflation”!
From here the progress might be to accompany such demands with threats, suggesting that if the “gifts” are not forthcoming, then the ship will be unaccountably delayed in her progress through a port. More and more officials might appear to demand their entitlements.
It might be that the corruption moves not so subtly from these “facilitation” payments of goods, to a demand for cash, or to downright extortion, with the officials discovering some small infraction in the paperwork that is not to their satisfaction, or interpreting the customs regulations in a way that leaves the ship open to charges.
It could be that there is a dispute over the amount of cargo that has been landed, or its condition, that will be swiftly escalated into a major “crime” that could see the ship, or her master, arrested, with the promise of huge penalties, which, however, might miraculously be overlooked by a cash payment to the officials concerned.
Masters, and indeed individual shipping companies may be wary of creating too much of a fuss, in case worse things occur if the ship returns. This is something that is well understood by the corrupt practitioners.
And this is where BIMCO can be so useful in intervening at the highest level, persuading governments to bring these practices to a halt. BIMCO warns its members about the difficulties they might encounter in such places and not infrequently will publish details of particular unpleasantness in the BIMCO Bulletin. Such efforts can be very effective.
BIMCO’s new Anti-corruption Clause, devised by a team of international lawyers and practitioners, is the latest weapon against corrupt shipping practices, providing owners and charterers with a useful contractual platform to resist demands for illegal payments from port officials and others.
Importantly, it also addresses the responsibility of owners and charterers to comply with anti-corruption legislation.
An entirely voluntary addition to charter parties, the clause is universal – it can be used in any jurisdiction, applying the anti-corruption laws applicable to each of the parties and local law. It is a mechanism for owners to issue a note of protest in the event that an illegal demand is made and not withdrawn.
This triggers a co-operative response by charterers and owners to the demand. It is an important safeguard to the owners if they issue a protest to resist a demand and the ship is delayed, the charterers cannot place the ship off-hire. Clearly worded, fair and balanced, the clause is a new weapon for the industry against corrupt demands.