Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


Thomas Krebs *


139. CM P-Max III Ltd v Petroleos del Norte SA (The MT Stena Primorsk) 1

Voyage charters—pratique—notice of readiness—safety and under keel clearance in port

The Stena Primorsk was en route to Paulsboro, New Jersey. That port afforded her insufficient under-keel clearance so that the owner would not normally allow her to enter it. She was due to arrive on 31 March and, for that day, a one-day waiver of the owner’s under-keel clearance policy was agreed between the master and the owner. She arrived on 31 March, made fast and gave notice of readiness to discharge. The master was informed of the anticipated rate of discharge and decided, within 12 minutes of docking, that discharge could not be completed safely on a falling tide. The vessel therefore left the port again and anchored offshore. The charterer requested that the vessel return to port the next day, but on this occasion the one-off waiver was refused on the basis that there was very little margin for error (as demonstrated by the events of 31 March). The cargo was therefore discharged using lighters, resulting in laytime being exceeded. The owner’s demurrage claim was met by the charterer arguing that the notice of readiness had been invalid, as free pratique had not yet been obtained, and that time had been suspended by the master’s decision to leave the port and the owner’s refusal to return to berth on 1 April. The charterer counterclaimed in respect of the costs incurred by lightering.
Decision: The owner’s claim succeeded; the charterer’s counterclaim failed.
Held: The notice of readiness had been valid. The port authorities had behaved as if pratique had been granted, with coastguard and pilot boarding the vessel and no objection being raised to the vessel mooring. It appeared that the system operated by the port was one of “default” free pratique, with no need for discussion relating to it unless there was disease on board. Laytime therefore began to run on 31 March. Time had not been interrupted by any of the subsequent events; this would happen only if there was some sort of fault on the part of the master or the owner. The under-keel clearance policy was set out in the charterparty and considered binding. A refusal to waive it could not be regarded as fault, given that any waiver called for a careful risk assessment. The counterclaim in respect of lightering accordingly failed also.


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