Ship Lightening

Ship Lightening

Sometimes all or part of a ship’s cargo will have to be discharged offshore into lighters or other ship (craft), because of congestion and/or lack of water alongside the berth, and for certain ports, this is quite normal and customary susch as Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Ship Lightening, in practice however, calls for quite a complicated contractual clause covering the rights, risks, and responsibilities of those involved in the operation a clause which must be taken seriously as lightening can be a hazardous undertaking.
Certain standard charter parties employ special wording.

Ship Lightening Clauses are being liable to modification by negotiation and none cover all points likely to arise during negotiations. Aspects to bear in mind when negotiating a Ship Lightening Clause include:

  • Safe and Customary location
  • Lay time during Ship Lightening
  • Cessation or delays to lightening owing to 1- adverse weather and 2- strong swell
  • Cost of Ship Lightening
  • Hire of lightening craft and labour
  • Quantity of cargo to be lightened and/or draft to be reached
  • Risk of damage to Discharging Ship and Lightening Ship
  • Extra Hull Insurance to cover Ship Lightening operation
  • Supply of fenders type, and approval of master
  • Seaworthy trim for move from lightening position to discharge berth

What is Ship Lightening in Chartering?

In the context of maritime chartering, ship lightening is the process of reducing the weight of a ship by unloading some of its cargo.

This usually happens when a ship is too heavy to enter certain ports or to navigate through shallow waters. In such cases, the ship might have to lighten its load before proceeding. This can be done by transferring some of the cargo onto smaller ships, which are known as lighters, hence the term ‘lightening’.

Once the cargo is lightened, the ship’s draft (the depth of the ship underwater) decreases and it is then able to navigate in shallower waters. After the ship has passed the shallow area, the lighters can deliver the cargo back to the ship, or directly to the shore if the destination is already near.

It’s important to note that lightening can result in additional costs and risks, including potential damage to the cargo during transfer. Therefore, it’s often a last resort used only when absolutely necessary. The additional costs and potential liabilities are typically set out in the charter party agreement, which is a contract between the ship owner and the charterer for the hire of the ship or space on the ship.

In the shipping industry, lightening is usually avoided whenever possible because it’s a complex process that requires additional handling of the cargo. As mentioned earlier, this increases the risk of damage and also incurs more costs. The charter party agreement usually contains clauses that detail the conditions under which lightening may occur and how the related costs and responsibilities are divided between the ship owner and the charterer.

In certain instances, lightening is employed when the cargo is too heavy for the destination port’s infrastructure. This could be due to the port’s limitations, such as a shallow harbor, inadequate berthing facilities, or a lack of equipment to handle the ship’s heavy cargo.

Lightering operations usually take place near the destination port but can sometimes happen mid-voyage, particularly when there’s a need to cross areas with shallow waters or other navigational restrictions.

Lighters, the smaller ships onto which the ship’s cargo is transferred, vary in size and type. They could be barges, tugboats, or small cargo ships, and the type used often depends on the nature and volume of the cargo being transferred. They usually have their own cranes or other lifting equipment for transferring cargo.

Despite the challenges and risks associated with lightening, it’s sometimes a necessary operation in maritime transport. This makes it an important topic in the field of chartering. The understanding of it, along with a robust agreement, ensures both parties (the ship owner and the charterer) can manage their risks and expectations in such circumstances.


Ship Lightering

Ship lightering, also known as lighterage, is a maritime practice where a ship’s cargo is partially unloaded onto smaller ships, called lighters or barges, before reaching its final destination. The purpose of this practice is often to reduce the draft of a ship so it can safely navigate in shallower waters, such as in a harbor or a port with draught restrictions. It can also be used to unload cargo at ports that are not equipped to handle larger ships.

The process usually involves using cranes or other cargo handling equipment to transfer the cargo from the larger ship to the smaller one. Depending on the type of cargo, it can be a complex and time-consuming process. Safety is a major concern during lightering operations, particularly when dealing with hazardous materials or difficult weather conditions.

In addition to facilitating navigation in shallow waters, lightering can also help in situations where a ship is grounded or stranded. By removing some of the cargo, the ship can often be refloated more easily.

Despite the extra time and cost involved, lightering is sometimes the most feasible or cost-effective solution for transporting large quantities of cargo to certain destinations. The practice has been used for many centuries in various forms, and continues to be an important aspect of global maritime trade.


Bulk Carrier Ship Lightering

Bulk carrier ship lightering is a specific application of the general practice of ship lightering, or lighterage, as described earlier. In this context, the cargo being transferred usually consists of dry bulk materials, such as coal, grain, ore, or other raw materials.

In a typical bulk carrier ship lightering operation, the larger bulk carrier arrives at a designated lightering zone, which could be offshore or some distance from the final port of discharge. Smaller ships, often called barges, are then used to transport the bulk cargo from the larger ship to the port.

The process starts with the larger ship and the smaller lighterage ships anchoring alongside each other. Then, using the ship’s own gear or specialized lightering gear, the cargo is transferred from the larger ship to the smaller ones. This can be a complex operation, requiring careful coordination and precision to ensure safety and efficiency. It’s particularly challenging when dealing with bulk materials, which can shift during transfer, possibly leading to instability.

Once the cargo is transferred to the lighterage ships, they then transport it to the port, where it can be offloaded using conventional port infrastructure. This could be necessary because the port may not be deep enough to accommodate the larger bulk carrier, or the port may not have the necessary infrastructure to efficiently unload the large volume of cargo that a bulk carrier can carry.

Despite the additional time and cost, bulk carrier ship lightering can sometimes be the most feasible or economical method for delivering bulk cargo, especially when dealing with ports with depth or infrastructure limitations. As with any maritime operation, safety is of the utmost importance, and procedures must be carefully followed to minimize risks.


What is Ship Lightering Anchorage?

Ship Lightering Anchorage is a specific location at sea or in a port where a ship is anchored for the process of lightering. Lightering refers to the act of transferring cargo from one ship, usually a larger one, to a smaller ship. The term “lightering” comes from the concept of making the larger ship “lighter” by reducing its weight.

There are several reasons for the process of lightering. Here are a few examples:

  1. Draft Restrictions: In some ports, the water is not deep enough to accommodate fully loaded large ships. In such cases, the ship needs to be lightened before it can enter the port. The cargo is transferred to smaller ships that have a smaller draft and can navigate in shallower waters.
  2. Capacity limitations: If the port’s infrastructure cannot handle large volumes of cargo at once, lightering may be necessary to unload the cargo gradually.
  3. Emergency situations: If a ship is in distress, for example, it has a hole in its hull or is grounded, lightering can reduce the ship’s weight and make it easier to repair or refloat.

The area where lightering takes place, i.e., the ship lightering anchorage, is usually carefully chosen considering factors like sea conditions, proximity to the port, and the potential impact on the environment. Rules and regulations governing these activities often vary by country and specific port authority.


Ship To Ship (STS) Lightening Operations

Ship-to-Ship (STS) lightering operations, also known as STS transfer operations, are procedures where cargo is transferred between seagoing ships positioned alongside each other, either while stationary or underway (also known as lightening). These operations are often critical for the efficient transport of goods in maritime logistics.

The process usually occurs in designated areas off a port or at sea. It is common in situations where a ship is too large to enter a port, making it necessary to transfer the cargo to a smaller ship (a lighter) that can navigate in shallower waters. It’s also used for the transportation of liquid cargo, such as crude oil or liquid natural gas (LNG).

Here are the basic steps of an STS lightering operation:

  1. Preparation: All necessary permits and inspections are completed before the operation starts. Both ships should be technically prepared and the crews adequately trained.
  2. Approach and Mooring: One ship approaches the other in a controlled manner. Once alongside, they are secured together using mooring lines. The operation often requires the assistance of skilled mooring masters or pilots and specialized support ships.
  3. Connection of Transfer Hoses: Once the ships are securely moored together, the cargo hoses or arms are connected between the two ships. In the case of liquid cargo, this involves establishing a secure and leak-free connection.
  4. Cargo Transfer: The cargo is then pumped from one ship to the other. This process is carefully monitored to prevent spills and maintain the stability of both ships.
  5. Disconnection and Departure: After the cargo transfer is completed, the hoses or arms are disconnected. The ships are then unmoored and separated, ending the operation.

STS operations are regulated by international maritime conventions to ensure they are performed safely and without causing pollution. They require a high level of expertise and training due to the inherent dangers associated with the process, including the potential for spills, fires, or collisions. Additionally, different types of cargo may require specific equipment and procedures.


Bulk Carrier Lightening: Mother Ship and Lighter Ship

“Bulk carrier lightening” is the process where larger (“mother”) ships transfer a portion of their cargo to smaller (“lighter”) ships. This often occurs at sea when the larger ship is unable to dock at a certain port due to its size, or the port’s depth limitations, which restricts larger ships from safely reaching the dock.

Here’s how the process typically unfolds:

  1. Mooring: The mother ship and lighter ship need to be moored securely, usually alongside each other. Depending on the sea conditions, the two ships can be secured using mooring lines, or they may employ tugboats to help maintain their relative positions.
  2. Safety Precautions: Before any cargo can be transferred, safety precautions must be taken. This includes ensuring that the lifting equipment is in good condition, the crew is wearing necessary safety equipment, and that weather conditions are safe enough to proceed.
  3. Cargo Transfer: The transfer of cargo can occur in several ways, depending on the type of cargo. For dry bulk cargo like coal, grain, or iron ore, a crane or conveyor system on the mother ship lifts the cargo into the hold of the lighter ship. For liquid bulk cargo like oil, hoses connect the tanks of the two ships and pumps move the cargo. The loading is done carefully to prevent spillage or damage to either ship.
  4. Documentation: After the cargo has been transferred, documentation is made and approved by both the mother ship’s and lighter ship’s captain. This ensures that all parties agree on the quantity and condition of the cargo transferred.
  5. Departure: Once the lightering process is complete, the two ships disconnect their mooring lines and the lighter ship sails towards the intended port. The mother ship, now lighter, can continue on its route, dock at the port if it is now able to do so, or continue the lightening process with another lighter ship.

The main benefits of the lightening process include flexibility in cargo handling, the ability to overcome port restrictions, and cost savings. On the flip side, it can increase the risk of environmental damage due to potential spills and requires additional time and resources to carry out the operation safely.


Ship Lightening or Ship Lighterage

A Ship Lightening Clause may be phrased as follows:

“In the event that a steamship is instructed to discharge its cargo at a location lacking sufficient water depth to safely enter on the first tide after arrival, without the need for lightening, and must remain afloat at all times, laytime shall commence twenty-four hours after arrival at a secure anchorage, as is customary for similar ships destined for said location. Any expenses incurred for lighterage, undertaken to facilitate the ship’s approach to the unloading point, shall be borne and assumed by the cargo receivers, disregarding any local customs to the contrary. However, the time spent traversing from the anchorage to the place of discharge shall not be included in the laytime calculation.”

Ordinarily, a ship is required to proceed to a port where it can safely enter and discharge its entire cargo without touching the seabed, adhering to the concept of a safe port. If a ship is directed to a port where its draft would prevent it from entering without touching the seabed, the draft must be reduced by unloading some cargo onto one or more lightening ships situated outside the port. This process, known as “lightering” or “lightening,” involves using smaller ships or harbor craft called “lighters.” If the charterers propose lightening the ship outside the harbor, but the ship’s captain deems the lightening location to be “unsafe,” the captain may refuse to unload there and insist on proceeding to a nearby, deeper port for discharging. The courts would then determine if the lightening location falls under the definition of a “safe port,” as demonstrating a customary practice of lightening outside the harbor before the ship’s entry may not be sufficient to establish the port as such.

In the event that the shipowner incurs expenses due to lightening required for the ship’s safe entry into the port, these costs may be claimed from the charterers as damages. Nonetheless, a well-drafted charterparty clause that addresses the responsibilities associated with lightening and minimizes the need for claims can be found in the MULTIFORM voyage charterparty:

“Provided that the ship has fulfilled the draft requirements stated in Clause 3, any lightening necessary at the discharge ports to facilitate the ship’s arrival at its designated berths shall be at the charterers’ expense and risk, with the time counted as laytime or demurrage. However, the time spent shifting from the lightening location to the designated berths shall not be included in the laytime calculation.”

In “Clause 3,” the shipowners are obligated to ensure that the ship’s maximum draft in saltwater is guaranteed upon its arrival at the first or sole discharge port.

Occasionally, the matter of draft and lightening can also become significant in time charters. In the case of The Aquacharm in 1982, the ship was chartered under the NYPE form. The ship was instructed to load to its maximum draft and traverse the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal imposes a limit on the maximum Fresh Water Arrival Draft (FWAD) of 11.3 meters due to the fresh water density within most of the Canal. If a ship loads to its maximum saltwater draft, this draft will increase by the ship’s “Fresh Water Allowance” upon arrival in fresh water. In the Aquacharm case, the captain failed to account for the increase in the ship’s draft when passing through the Canal. Consequently, upon reaching the Canal’s entrance, the ship was denied passage and had to be lightened. The partially discharged cargo was transported through the Canal aboard another ship and then reloaded onto the Aquacharm at the other end.

The court ruled that the time charterers were not liable for the expenses related to lightening due to the captain’s negligence. However, the ship was not considered off hire during this time.

Lightening refers to the process of reducing a ship’s draft in order to facilitate its entry into a port or arrival at a berth with limited available water depth. The charterparty may stipulate that the ship should be directed to a “safe port or as close as it can safely reach, remaining afloat.” In such cases, the restricted water depth may render the port unsafe or hinder the ship from remaining afloat. The determining factor is not solely the state of the tide, as the ship may simply need to wait for appropriate tidal conditions. However, the water depth may never be suitable or safe for the ship’s navigation, necessitating lightening if the ship is loaded with a draft that exceeds the permissible limit upon arrival at the discharge port or when passing through a waterway with draft restrictions.

For instance, when a ship needs to transit the Panama Canal, the maximum permitted draft for transit is a “Tropical, Fresh Water” (TFW) draft of 39 feet 6 inches. If the ship is loaded to this draft in saltwater, upon reaching the Canal’s entrance, it will sink further due to its “fresh water allowance,” exceeding the permitted draft. Consequently, the ship may experience delays due to lightening. In such a case, if the ship’s captain loaded it to the maximum saltwater draft, negligence may be attributed to the captain, and the shipowner may have to cover the time lost due to lightening.

Regarding laytime, the consideration of lightening as part of the discharging operation may vary. Lightening can be regarded as a “partial discharge.” Lightening can occur either “ship to ship” or “ship to shore,” where “shore” refers to a location some distance away from the agreed discharging destination.

If lightening is considered part of the discharging operation, laytime may commence when the ship arrives at the nearest point where it can safely discharge and the lightening process begins. Laytime may continue from that point, or it may be suspended due to an agreed event, such as shifting from the lightening location to the designated discharging berth. The precise wording in the charterparty is crucial in determining the impact of lightening on laytime.

In The Savvas case of 1981, the ship was chartered under an agreement stating that any lightening would be at the owner’s expense and risk, and the time spent on lightening would not count as laytime. The ship arrived at Bombay, gave Notice of Readiness, and, as per the charterparty, laytime should have commenced the following day. However, lightening was necessary but could not be carried out until 17 days after the ship’s arrival. The lightening process itself took seven days. The charterers argued that since lightening was necessary and could not begin earlier, laytime did not commence until the lightening operations were completed.

The court decided that the time spent on lightening included only the actual time utilized for the process and did not incorporate the time spent waiting for lightening facilities. The waiting time for lightening would be at the charterer’s risk. The judge explicitly laid down the principles of a lightening clause and the associated responsibilities. (In this case, the lightening clause was referred to as “Clause 22”.) The judge stated:

“In my opinion, ‘lightening’ and ‘time spent waiting for lighters to arrive’ are two distinct matters. Clause 22 is an exceptional clause, as it imposes upon the owners a liability that is normally the charterers’ responsibility. If it had been intended to broaden the meaning of the term ‘lightening’ to encompass what is not typically included in its ordinary definition, clear and specific language would have been required. Provision could have been made to explicitly address the time lost while waiting for lightening, ensuring it does not count against laytime.”

Typically, provisions related to “time lost” in a charterparty are associated with the time spent waiting for a berth to count as laytime. However, in this particular case, the judge was addressing the reverse situation. It is advisable that regardless of the terminology used in the charterparty, the impact of lightening on laytime should be precisely and clearly specified.

If the charterparty does not include a provision such as “as near thereto as she may safely get,” the time required for lightening may not be considered as “laytime.” However, any resulting delay should still be at the charterer’s risk if the nominated port is not deemed a “safe port.”

For laytime to commence during the lightening process, the ship must be considered an “arrived ship.” This means that it has reached the designated contractual destination. In the case of a “port charter,” this includes a position within the port where the ship is under the immediate and effective control of the charterer. In the case of a “berth charter,” it implies that the ship has actually arrived at the designated berth. Before the ship becomes an “arrived ship,” laytime may not commence, and if the ship needs to be lightened, the charterer may or may not bear the risk of any loss of time incurred during the lightening operation. In an older English case, Nielsen v. Wait (1885), the judge stated that if the charter specifically specifies the destination, the owner cannot include the time spent on lightening as laytime if the ship fails to reach the agreed destination. This contrasted with an earlier Scottish case, Dickinson v. Martini (1874), where shipowners were allowed to include lightening time as laytime outside a port.

Tanker charterparties often include provisions regarding lightening. In the case of these ships, they may transport large parcels of cargo that need to be transhipped at sea before reaching the final discharging destination. For instance, in TANKERVOY 87, it is stipulated that:

“If the ship loads or discharges cargo through transhipment at sea, the time from the ship’s arrival at the transhipment location until the final unmooring of the lightening ship at the conclusion of the transhipment operations shall be considered as laytime or demurrage if the ship is on demurrage.”

In this scenario, the time required for shifting from the transhipment location to the ultimate port of discharge does not count as laytime.

In the EXXONVOY 84 tanker charterparty, the lightening clause includes a provision where the charterer provides a “lightening master” and appropriate lightening equipment, but the ship’s master remains responsible for overseeing the lightening operation.





Top Ship Lightering Anchorage Areas

Lightering is the process of transferring cargo between ships of different sizes, often between a barge (lighter) and a bulker or tanker. This process is usually performed at an offshore location known as a lightering zone or lightering area. Here are some of the top lightering anchorage areas worldwide, where bulk carrier ship lightering operations often take place:

  1. Gulf of Mexico, U.S.: This area has numerous lightering zones due to the volume of oil and petroleum products imported into the U.S. Gulf Coast. The lightering zones are typically located off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.
  2. Fujairah, UAE: This is one of the world’s busiest lightering areas, especially for oil tankers. It’s a strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for global oil trade.
  3. Singapore Strait, Singapore: The Strait of Singapore is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Given the vast number of ships passing through and its well-equipped facilities, it’s a popular area for lightering operations.
  4. Rotterdam, Netherlands: The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, and its location at the mouth of the Rhine and Meuse rivers makes it an excellent place for lightering operations.
  5. Malacca Strait, Malaysia/Indonesia: This strait is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. Many ships transfer cargo here due to its strategic location between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
  6. Houston Ship Channel, U.S.: This man-made shipping route is a significant part of the Port of Houston, one of the busiest seaports in the U.S. The Houston Ship Channel has several lightering zones in its vicinity.
  7. Scapa Flow, Scotland: Known for its deep, sheltered waters, Scapa Flow has a history as a naval base but is also used for lightering operations.
  8. English Channel, U.K./France: This major international shipping route is also used for lightering, especially for ships heading towards the major ports of Northern Europe.
  9. Mumbai, India: The waters surrounding Mumbai host significant lightering operations, supporting the substantial shipping traffic that feeds into one of India’s busiest ports.
  10. Panama Canal, Panama: While actual lightering operations within the canal are limited due to size restrictions, the surrounding areas are frequently used for such operations, particularly given the significant amount of shipping traffic that passes through the canal.

These areas are critical to the operation of the global shipping industry, helping larger ships reduce their draught to enter ports and harbors, or to offload cargo onto smaller ships for regional distribution.