Ship Documentary Readiness

Ship Documentary Readiness

All necessary papers must be in order for the vessel to proceed immediately to the loading/discharging place and start work. It is normally necessary for a vessel to have the relevant documentation in order to obtain clearance not only from customs, immigration and health authorities but also other local authorities who may have their own requirements.

Taking two of these issues:

A- Free Pratique

1- Free pratique is the health clearance granted by the Port Medical Authorities to a vessel on arrival from a foreign port for her crew to go ashore and for local people to go on board. The ship may fail to get free pratique either because of serious infection on board, or because she has arrived from a place where illness is known to be rampant.

2- Where a vessel fails to get free pratique she cannot be considered ready because work is prevented and the vessel is not at the effective disposal of the charterers.

In the Delian Spirit (1971) case, the Court of Appeal said that a vessel did not need free pratique before she could be ready if it had no reason to believe there will be a delay on crew health grounds, and where the inspection would be a mere formality.

3- Where the ship might have reason to fear a delay, or where inspection was not a mere formality, then the vessel must obtain free pratique to be ready.

As an example, where there has been a suspected outbreak of disease aboard the ship inspection by the health authorities would not be a mere formality and free pratique must be obtained before the vessel can be ready.

4-  If the health inspection took place after the NOR had been given and the vessel failed to get free pratique that NOR will be invalid and a second NOR must be tendered once free pratique is granted.

B- Customs Clearance

1- The principle is similar to that of free pratique and if it appears that customs clearance is a mere formality, then the Delian Spirit judgement will apply and the validity of the NOR will not be affected. Where there are often disputes is whether time taken or lost to obtain customs clearance counts as lay time or (if the vessel is on demurrage) as time on demurrage. This will very much depend on the specific wording of the charterparty.


Specific clauses containing provisions such as WICCON (Whether Customs Cleared Or Not) and WIFPON (Whether In Free Pratique Or Not) can be agreed which will allow a valid NOR to be given even if the vessel is not customs cleared or in free pratique. However, in a London arbitration, it was held that a vessel which failed a free pratique inspection where it was not a formality was not ready and could not give a valid NOR even though the charterparty contained a WIFPON clause. Therefore, these additional clauses do not appear to alter the position set out in the Delian Spirit.

What is Free Pratique in Ship Chartering?

In the context of ship chartering, “Free Pratique” refers to a clause or provision that is included in charter party agreements. The Free Pratique clause addresses the issue of whether a ship will be granted permission to enter a port and commence cargo operations without any delays or restrictions due to health or sanitary concerns.

When a ship is granted Free Pratique, it means that the vessel is deemed to be free from contagious diseases and fulfills the necessary health requirements as determined by the port authorities. This clearance allows the ship to proceed with its intended operations upon arrival at the port.

The inclusion of a Free Pratique clause in a charter party agreement is important because it clarifies the responsibilities and liabilities of both the charterer and the shipowner in relation to health and sanitary matters. It ensures that the shipowner is responsible for maintaining the ship’s health standards and complying with any necessary regulations, while the charterer can expect the ship to have the required clearance to enter the port and proceed with cargo operations.

It’s worth noting that the specific terms and conditions related to Free Pratique may vary depending on the charter party agreement and the regulations of the relevant ports. Therefore, it’s important for both parties involved in the charter to clearly define and agree upon the rights and obligations regarding Free Pratique to avoid any disputes or delays during the charter period.


What is WIFPON (Whether In Free Pratique Or Not)?

“WIFPON” stands for “Whether In Free Pratique Or Not.” It is an abbreviation commonly used in shipping communications and documentation to indicate the vessel’s status regarding free pratique clearance.

When a vessel is “WIFPON” or “in free pratique,” it means that the ship has been granted permission by the port authorities to enter or leave a port without any health or sanitary restrictions. The vessel is considered to be free from contagious diseases and meets the necessary health requirements.

Conversely, if a vessel is “not WIFPON” or “not in free pratique,” it indicates that the ship has not yet received clearance from the port authorities. This could be due to pending health inspections, suspected health risks, or non-compliance with the required health standards. In such cases, the ship may be subject to restrictions, delays, or additional inspections until it obtains the necessary free pratique clearance.

The status of free pratique is important in shipping operations as it impacts the vessel’s ability to enter or leave ports, conduct cargo operations, and comply with health and sanitary regulations. It is often communicated between the ship’s agent, charterer, and port authorities to ensure smooth port operations and adherence to health protocols.

It’s worth noting that the specific terminology and abbreviations used in shipping communications may vary, and different abbreviations or phrases similar to “WIFPON” may be used to convey the same concept of free pratique status.


What is Customs Clearance in Ship Chartering?

In ship chartering, “Customs Clearance” refers to the process of obtaining official permission from the customs authorities for a vessel to enter or leave a port and handle its cargo in accordance with applicable customs regulations. It involves fulfilling the necessary customs formalities, documentations, and inspections to ensure compliance with customs laws and regulations.

When a ship arrives at a port, it must go through the customs clearance process to facilitate the import or export of goods on board. The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Document Submission: The ship’s agent or the charterer submits the required documentation to the customs authorities, including the ship’s manifest, cargo manifests, bills of lading, and other relevant documents.
  2. Customs Declaration: The customs authorities review the submitted documents and verify the accuracy of the declared cargo, its value, and any applicable duties or taxes.
  3. Customs Inspection: Depending on the nature of the cargo or any specific concerns, the customs authorities may conduct physical inspections of the cargo to ensure compliance with customs regulations, safety standards, and any prohibited or restricted items.
  4. Duty and Tax Assessment: The customs authorities assess any applicable import or export duties, taxes, or fees based on the declared value of the cargo. The party responsible for these payments, whether the shipowner or the charterer, is determined by the terms of the charter party agreement.
  5. Customs Release: Once all customs formalities, inspections, and duty payments are completed, the customs authorities grant clearance for the ship to proceed with cargo operations, either for loading or unloading, as specified in the charter party agreement.

It’s important to note that the customs clearance process may vary from port to port and can be subject to local regulations and practices. Therefore, it is essential for the shipowner, charterer, and their agents to have a clear understanding of the customs procedures and requirements at each port involved in the charter to ensure a smooth and efficient clearance process.

What is WICCON (Whether Customs Cleared Or Not)?

“WICCON” stands for “Whether Customs Cleared Or Not.” It is an abbreviation commonly used in shipping communications and documentation to indicate the vessel’s status regarding free Customs Clearance.

When a vessel is marked as “WICCON” or “Inward Custom Cleared,” it means that the necessary customs procedures and formalities for the vessel’s arrival have been completed. The customs authorities have granted clearance for the vessel to enter the port and commence cargo operations, subject to any specific conditions or requirements outlined by the customs authorities.

On the other hand, if a vessel is marked as “Not WICCON” or “Not Inward Custom Cleared,” it signifies that the customs clearance process for the vessel’s arrival is still pending or incomplete. The vessel may be required to undergo further customs inspections, provide additional documentation, or fulfill any outstanding customs requirements before it is granted clearance to enter the port and proceed with cargo operations.

The WICCON status is an important consideration in ship chartering as it impacts the vessel’s ability to timely and efficiently handle cargo operations upon arrival. It helps the charterer, shipowner, and their agents to assess the readiness of the vessel for cargo operations and make appropriate arrangements based on the customs clearance status.


Free Pratique during Pandemic

Free pratique denotes the authorization bestowed by a port to a vessel for its entrance upon satisfying the proficient health authorities of its freedom from infectious maladies. This prerequisite ensures the vessel’s legal readiness for cargo loading or discharge, thereby enabling the submission of the vessel’s Notice of Readiness (NOR) and significantly influencing the calculation of laytime and demurrage.

Nonetheless, since the 1970s, it has been acknowledged that the conferment of free pratique could be perceived as a mere “formality,” allowing a Captain to submit the NOR when free pratique has been officially granted by the port, without fearing any delays due to the health conditions of the crew.

In the illustrious work known as The Delian Spirit, Lord Denning proclaimed that if the vessel appears to possess an “impeccable bill of health,” with no conceivable cause for delay, then, even in the absence of officially obtaining pratique, the vessel is entitled to declare its readiness, thereby initiating the commencement of laytime. Subsequent cases in the 1970s affirmed this judicial approach, with Lord Denning (once again) asserting in The Tres Flores that if there is a reasonable expectation that routine matters will not induce any delays and it becomes evident that the vessel will be prepared when the appropriate time arrives, then notice of readiness may be submitted.

Should the Captain reasonably conclude that free pratique is a mere formality unlikely to cause any delays, the NOR can be issued and remains valid even in the event of subsequent delays.

The most apparent reason for delays in obtaining free pratique arises when the crew members are unwell, potentially afflicted by a contagious disease. Consequently, the standard Declaration of Health must be completed, addressing queries pertaining to the crew’s well-being prior to the vessel’s entrance into the port. Any affirmative responses are likely to induce delays, thus preventing the Captain from considering the acquisition of free pratique as a mere formality.

However, the Declaration of Health may also encompass inquiries regarding the vessel’s recent port calls (typically within the last 30 days) to determine if the vessel has visited any ports of concern. If the Captain is aware of a previous port call that might be deemed problematic and could lead to delays in obtaining free pratique, it cannot be regarded as a mere formality. In such circumstances, the Captain cannot submit the NOR.

The advent of the COVID-19 outbreak brought these matters into sharp focus. Originating as an epidemic, COVID-19 initially emerged in China in December 2019. During a period when there were no visits to Chinese ports affected by COVID-19, the acquisition of free pratique could still be regarded as a mere formality. However, if the vessel had called at a port impacted by COVID-19, it could not be considered a mere formality.

Subsequently, the epidemic transitioned into a pandemic, whereby every port carried an inherent risk. All vessels, regardless of their previous destinations, were now deemed potential carriers of infectious diseases. No vessel could enter any port until the completion of a quarantine period, leading to global delays. During the peak of the pandemic, it is challenging to envision any scenario wherein a Captain could reasonably believe that obtaining free pratique would be a mere formality, thereby justifying the submission of the NOR. Even with efforts to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, such as restricting crew rotations, enforcing mandatory post-rotation quarantines, and providing personal protective equipment to the crew, the scrutiny and inspections remained stringent and time-consuming. Consequently, delays persisted, even in the absence of automatic quarantines.

As we acquired further knowledge about COVID-19, the implementation of measures to mitigate its transmission became customary practice for individuals preparing to embark on, as well as those already aboard, maritime vessels. Testing kits made their appearance, aiding us in identifying the most prevalent symptoms, thereby enabling more focused inquiries in the Declaration. It also became evident that certain nations exhibited superior management of the outbreak, resulting in less scrutiny towards vessels arriving from those regions. Under such circumstances, if it could reasonably be determined that there would be no hindrances in obtaining free pratique—such as the absence of unwell crew members, absence of elevated temperatures, and previous port visits to areas with COVID under control—then the Master was entitled to present the NOR.

By possessing this capability to tender the NOR, laytime commences earlier, sparing the vessel from enduring potentially protracted waiting periods. This ensures that neither the vessel nor its owners bear the burden of delays unrelated to the crew’s health or trading history. Naturally, the parties are at liberty to mutually agree upon the moment for tendering the NOR concerning free pratique. Some standard voyage charterparties remain silent on the matter of free pratique—Gencon 1976 and ASBATANKVOY 1977 serve as two such examples—consequently deferring to the application of common law.

Numerous standard charterparty agreements adopt various approaches in this regard. Certain forms employ phrases like “whether in free pratique or not” or similar expressions—for instance, Gencon 1994 and HeavyliftVoy—permitting the vessel to issue the NOR under such circumstances. Naturally, by tendering the NOR, the Master asserts that their vessel stands prepared. However, if readiness is absent and a delay is expected (i.e., more than a mere formality), this provision does not permit the tendering of the NOR. Therefore, this clause accurately reflects the principles of common law.

In the case of London Arbitration 11/00, the charterparty allowed for the NOR to be tendered “whether in free pratique or not.” The vessel arrived and presented its NOR, but encountered impediments preventing it from berthing, including the invalidity of vaccination certificates for some crew members, including the Master. Ultimately, free pratique was not granted until after the vessel berthed. The owners’ reliance on The Delian Spirit proved unsuccessful as obtaining free pratique involved more than a mere formality due to the certificate requirement.

Alternatively, other charterparty clauses adopt a different approach, stipulating that the vessel must possess free pratique as a condition precedent to the tendering of the NOR. In such instances, the actual granting of free pratique becomes paramount, rendering the process of obtaining it inconsequential. Consequently, the owners assume the risk of delays in securing free pratique, even if the crew is entirely healthy.

In London Arbitration 14/86, time would commence “when in free pratique,” among other factors. Although the vessel tendered the NOR on June 6, it had to wait at anchorage until June 20, when it finally reached the berth and obtained free pratique. The owners’ reliance on The Delian Spirit also proved fruitless because, despite the indisputable healthiness of the crew when tendering the NOR on June 6, there was an explicit requirement for the vessel to be in free pratique. The same argument failed in London Arbitration 1/00.

These various clauses exemplify the divergent instances when a vessel is entitled to tender the NOR in the context of awaiting free pratique. In certain cases, whether it is a mere formality or not is immaterial. Erroneous interpretation or inclusion of disadvantageous clauses could lead to substantial financial losses for vessel owners.

New provisions have been implemented to address this matter. As an illustration, the BIMCO Clauses have been crafted to safeguard the interests of owners in situations where they face potential disruptions due to outbreaks of infectious diseases. The Intertanko COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Clause for Voyage charterparties explicitly states the following:

“Any time taken for the purposes of obtaining Free Pratique shall be for Charterers’ account and shall not prevent the tender of a valid and effective notice of readiness.”

Shipowners and Charterers also routinely formulate their own customized provisions.

It has perpetually been the circumstance that a vessel must be legally prepared to load or unload the cargo on board, with the well-being of the crew being one of the prerequisites to fulfill that legal preparedness. It became acknowledged that, if the crew remained in good health, affirming this would be a mere formality and therefore should not hinder the commencement of laytime.

Although the world has encountered diverse and severe outbreaks in certain regions since those instances in the 1970s, they were limited to those areas, which meant that free pratique in those regions might not be a mere formality but could persist elsewhere across the globe. However, COVID-19 was an entirely different matter, as it impacted the entire planet to such an extent that, at its peak, there could be no mere formality for any vessel entering any port worldwide.

As discernible from The Delian Spirit and The Tres Flores, the language used by the Court did not concern itself with whether it was a matter of fact that the crew was healthy and the vessel would receive free pratique, but rather whether the Master could assert that there would be no delay. That was certainly not the case during COVID-19, and as a result, the concept of a mere formality did not apply for an extended period. Nevertheless, the return to normalcy has reintroduced the possibility of increased inspections, while still maintaining the applicability of the concept.



What is Ship Documentary Readiness?

Ship Documentary Readiness refers to the state or condition of a ship’s documentation being complete, accurate, and in compliance with relevant regulations and requirements. It ensures that all necessary documents and records related to the ship’s operation, safety, and legal obligations are prepared, maintained, and readily available for inspection by authorities, port officials, and other stakeholders.

Ship documentation typically includes:

  1. Certificates and licenses: These include certificates of registry, international load line certificates, safety certificates, tonnage certificates, and other documents issued by relevant maritime authorities to verify the ship’s compliance with safety, security, and environmental standards.
  2. Crew documents: This includes seafarer employment agreements, crew lists, passports, visas, seafarer identification documents, and relevant training certificates.
  3. Cargo documents: Documentation related to the ship’s cargo, such as bills of lading, cargo manifests, dangerous goods declarations, and customs documents.
  4. Voyage documents: These include voyage plans, passage plans, navigation charts, logbooks, and other records related to the ship’s route, navigation, and operations during a voyage.
  5. Maintenance records: Documentation related to the ship’s maintenance, repairs, inspections, and surveys, including records of machinery and equipment maintenance, surveys and certifications, and class society documentation.
  6. Safety management system documents: These include the ship’s safety management system manual, procedures, checklists, incident reports, and other records that demonstrate the ship’s compliance with safety and pollution prevention requirements.
  7. Insurance and financial documents: These include insurance policies, certificates of financial responsibility, and other documents related to the ship’s financial and insurance obligations.

Ship Documentary Readiness ensures that all these documents are properly organized, up to date, and readily accessible. It helps to facilitate efficient port operations, regulatory compliance, safety inspections, and smooth communication among various stakeholders involved in the ship’s operation and management.


Ship Documentary Readiness is crucial for the smooth operation and compliance of a ship. It involves several key aspects:

  1. Documentation Accuracy: The ship’s documentation must be accurate, reflecting the ship’s current status and any modifications or updates. This includes ensuring that certificates, licenses, and other important documents are valid and up to date. Inaccurate or outdated information can lead to compliance issues and delays during port inspections.
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Ships are subject to various international and national regulations and conventions, such as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), MARPOL (Marine Pollution), and ISM (International Safety Management). Ship Documentary Readiness ensures that the ship’s documentation aligns with these regulations and that the required certificates and records are in place.
  3. Port State Control (PSC) Inspections: Port authorities conduct PSC inspections to verify ships’ compliance with international regulations. A well-prepared ship with complete and organized documentation is more likely to pass these inspections smoothly. Non-compliance or missing documentation can result in penalties, delays, or even detention of the ship.
  4. Emergency Situations: During emergencies such as accidents, incidents, or search and rescue operations, having readily accessible and accurate documentation is essential. It helps authorities assess the situation, coordinate response efforts, and ensure the safety of crew, passengers, and the environment.
  5. Record Keeping: Proper documentation is crucial for maintaining a comprehensive record of a ship’s activities and operations. This includes records of maintenance, repairs, inspections, incidents, and other important events. Well-maintained records support efficient management, enable historical analysis, and serve as evidence in case of disputes or legal proceedings.
  6. Communication and Transparency: Ship Documentary Readiness promotes effective communication and transparency between the ship’s crew, management, regulatory authorities, port officials, and other relevant parties. It allows for the efficient exchange of information, facilitates decision-making processes, and ensures everyone involved has access to the necessary documentation.

To achieve Ship Documentary Readiness, shipowners, operators, and crew must establish robust procedures for document control, maintenance, and verification. Regular audits and checks should be conducted to identify any deficiencies or gaps in documentation. Additionally, digital solutions and technologies can be utilized to streamline documentation processes, enhance accessibility, and ensure data integrity.

By prioritizing Ship Documentary Readiness, ships can operate in a compliant, efficient, and safe manner, minimizing risks, maximizing productivity, and maintaining a positive reputation within the maritime industry.