Over the last few years there have been several incidents where vessels transiting the Suez Canal under pilotage of the Suez Canal Authority have either grounded, damaged navigational buoys and/or encountered various other problems.
The main purpose of this circular is to briefly highlight some of the common problems that may face vessels while transit so as to try to avoid them in the future.
The Suez Canal is run by a very professional team ( Head quarters in Ismailia ) under the SCA Rules of Navigation. These rules cover almost all the activities that a vessel may need prior and during transit.
The Suez Canal Authority, being the second biggest source of revenue to Egypt, has a unique position in the country and has supreme power and influence.
The latest version of the Rules of Navigation should be accurately read by members as we believe that careful understanding of these rules is one of the important methods of Loss Prevention in relation to this issue.
Incidents generally involves Grounding, damage to buoys, damage to SC tugs, injuries to Pilots, injuries to Mooring Company employees, etc..
Causes of Grounding incidents may vary. Some incidents may occur due to vessel’s engine failure or rudder/steering problems (the latter is the reason of most grounding cases), others may be pilots’ negligence, poor visibility due to severe sand storms that sometimes prevail in the canal area. In grounding incidents, assistance of SCA tugs is immediately imposed as per the Rules of Navigation. Article 57 states : “ Chargeable tugs shall be imposed during canal transit in the following cases :
The CA may require any vessel to take a tug or tugs through the canal, when in its judgment such action is necessary to ensure safety of the vessel or to the canal.
Any vessel without mechanical power, or the machinery of which is / or becomes disabled, or steers badly, or which is liable to become unmanageable for any reason, shall be towed through the canal.
Vessels having engine or steering gear trouble for the second time during the same passage.
Bad view vessels owing to deck cargo, containers , cranes, or constructions impeding the view from the wheelhouse and wings.
a) vessels unable to use one of both anchors
b) vessels over 1500 SC G.T. built with one anchor.
c) vessels over 1500 SC G.T. built with more than one anchor if only one of them is in the bow.
Vessels with two engines on one propeller of which one is out of order for any reason and can not maintain speed of 10 knots at least without current after sea trial to assure the speed and valid sea worthiness certificate.
Vessel with two engines on two propellers of which one is out of order.
On Master’s request for one tug or more. “
Interestingly, Article 59 ( 5) states : “ When a vessel stops in the canal itself in consequence of an accident other than ( collision, engine troubles auxiliary and steering gear troubles ) CA, in order to clear the way with all possible speed and to get her underway, will assist by the necessary tugs to afloat her , free of charge. “
Also Article 59 ( 8 ) states : “ Whenever a collision appears probable, vessels must not hesitate to run aground should this be necessary to avoid it. “ This Article does not state that any assistance by SCA tugs is rendered free of charge, however, from experience, SCA eventually tend to give such service for free.
The SCA tugs’ fees are fixed in accordance with a tariff as per Article 105 of the Rules of Navigation.
Most Pollution incidents in the canal are related to grounding incidents and always involves the intervention of other local authorities mainly the Egyptian Environmental Agency Authority (EEAA). Article 64 (a) states : “ Vessels must not discharge or throw into the canal waters any polluted ballast water, heavy slops, engine or fire room polluted bilge water, oil or any other substances that will cause pollution. The Egyptian Environmental Protection Act no. 4, 1994 prohibits the discharge of any polluting substances into waters. The provisions of this act will apply for any discharge of polluting substances. “
Article 69 (2) makes it quite clear that the vessel will be held liable for any pollution due to leakage of any polluting material regardless of the circumstances which caused such pollution. Article 69(2) states : “ In case of leakage of any polluting material from a vessel, due to any reason, the Master, the owners and / or operators of the vessel shall be liable to indemnify any damage that may occur from the pollution directly or indirectly or to the environment and shall pay all expenses incurred for its removal and all compensations. Moreover, she shall pay for all claims regarding cleaning costs and all environmental economic losses caused from the pollution. “
It should be noted that in Pollution incidents, the SCA tend to detain vessels, especially if the incident is a huge one. This is applied due to the fact that the value of relevant claim may be quite substantial and consequently the SCA may be unable to collect the value of the claim from the local agents’ accounts preserved in the SCA.
Damage to SC buoys are incidents which happens frequently.
Articles 82 & 83 (A), (B) of the Rules of Navigation specifies the buoyage system in the canal.
The causes of such incidents are more or less the same as the causes of grounding stated earlier. It is also usually a consequence of grounding incidents or during operations to get a vessel afloat.
All canal buoys and its approaches are fitted with radar reflectors.
When a vessel collides with a buoy and damage it, the SCA immediately issue a letter of reserve holding the vessel/ local transit agents liable for such damage. A joint inspection is carried out to the damaged buoy to ascertain the damages sustained by the buoy.
A vessel is not detained by the SCA in such cases. This is due to the fact that the SCA, upon determining the value of buoy’s repair, will automatically debit the local agent’s account preserved in the SCA.
The repair costs are determined in accordance with the SCA tariff. All repairs are done at the workshops of the SCA.
This is also a frequent source of claims.
Article 55 (5) of the rules states: “ Whatever may be the conditions or circumstances under which the canal authority tugs are made use by a vessel, the Master of the vessel is responsible for any damages or accidents whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from the use of the said tugs, including damage which may occur to tugs themselves, and to equipment.”
Based on the above wording, the vessel’s liability seems to be unavoidable.
Any repairs to damaged tugs are done by the workshops of the SCA and the costs are based on the authority’s tariff.
It is not normal to see that the SCA is claiming for any consequential losses, loss of earnings or delays.
Pilotage is compulsory for all transiting vessels, whenever entering, leaving , moving, changing berth or shifting on canal waters or Portsaid and Suez ports.
Vessels transiting the canal must have mooring boats hired from the Suez Canal Mooring Company manned by shore crew hired from the SC Mooring Company. Each boat is to be manned by three men.
Pilots are usually injured during embarking or disembarking the vessel using the pilot ladder.
Members must therefore ensure that their vessels are complying with the requirements of Article 24 of the Rules of Navigation so as to avoid such injury incidents.
Article 4(1) states “ When in canal waters or at its ports or roads, any vessel or floating structure of any description are responsible for any damage and consequential loss she cause either directly or indirectly to herself or to CA properties or personnel or to third party. “
Liability for Pilots and mooring boats crew injuries/death incidents is always directed to the vessel and this may lead to rather huge claims including medical treatments and moral compensations.
Other problems that a members’ vessel may face while transit would be the imposing of “additional dues”, which is another phrase used for Fines . Such additional dues are imposed as a result of violating any of the rules.
A list of the violations that would involve the imposing of additional dues can be found in Article 106 of the rules. One common example is the additional due of US$ 21500 that is imposed on a vessel that move without a pilot on board while in canal waters.