Ship Owners’ Maintenance Obligations under Time Charter

Ship Owners’ Maintenance Obligations under Time Charter are set out in lines 36 and 37 of the NYPE form: ‘. . . owners shall provide and pay for … all of the cabin, deck, engine room and other necessary stores including boiler water and maintaining Class and keep the vessel in a thoroughly efficient state in hull, machinery and equipment for and during the service.’  Proper maintenance involves more than simply reacting diligently to problems once they arise. It is clearly implicit in the above-cited words that owners must maintain a prudent programme of inspections and surveys, renewals and repairs. The introduction of the International Safety Management Code has had a major evidential impact on seaworthiness disputes as a consequence of the Code’s provision of an additional raft of potentially disclosable documents. The ISM Code requires shipowners to keep a large number of records detailing the routine steps carried out in maintaining the vessel. The ISM Code requires that manuals set out the procedures to be followed and that, in turn, records are kept to evidence that those procedures have in fact been followed. Following a serious casualty, in which cargo is damaged, it is becoming more common for the claimant’s solicitors to arrange for a post-incident audit to be carried out by a suitably qualified person, such as one trained as an ISM auditor. If, despite reasonable preventive maintenance, the vessel breaks down or suf- fers an accident, owners’ duty under lines 36 and 37 is to take reasonable steps within a reasonable time to restore the vessel’s efficiency and seaworthiness. The nature of this obligation was explained in the leading case of Tynedale Shipping v Anglo-Soviet Shipping [1936]. Heavy weather had damaged the vessel causing its winch to fail. It was held that owners had ‘taken all reasonable and proper steps that reasonable men could ’ in trying to maintain the vessel in these difficult circumstances. Lord Roche said that the maintenance obligation: ‘.. .does not constitute an absolute engagement or warranty that the shipowners will succeed in so maintaining her whatever perils or causes may intervene to cause her to be inefficient for the purpose of her services.’