Ship Bunkers on Time Charter

All time charters provide that, at the commencement of the charter, charterers shall take over and pay for the bunkers on board at the time; and when the vessel is redelivered at the end of the charter, owners pay charterers for the bunkers remaining on board. During the charter period, it is charterers’ duty to provide and pay for such further bunkers as the vessel requires to carry out the services required by charterers. Issues arising between owners and charterers when things go wrong as a result of the bunkers supplied by charterers. Time charterers have supplied coal or fuel oil to vessels for over 100 years. It is therefore rather astonishing that there is no real guidance in English case law regarding the nature and scope of charterers’ obligations when supplying bunkers to the vessel. The only case referred to by the authors of TIME CHARTERS by Wilford is an unreported arbitration decision, which went to appeal, but where the nature of charters’ obligation did not need to be considered by the court. The absence of case law would be understandable, if it was due to the parties invariably taking care to define the nature of charterers’ responsibility clearly in the charter. But that is rarely what happens in practice. This is the more surprising when one considers that: (i) as a result of the pressure for greater economy and performance, modern marine diesel engines are increasingly intolerant of fuels that may have caused no difficulties 20 years ago, and (ii) as refineries become more efficient at extracting more high-value products from crude oil, what remains to be marketed as marine fuel oil is more likely to give rise to quality problems. Disputes between owners and charterers over the quality of fuel supplied can involve great expense, particularly if the vessel suffers an engine breakdown and consequent delay, given the rates of hire being paid in the current market