Ship’s Crew Customary Assistance

Practically, under all dry cargo time charters, the responsibility of arranging and performing loading, stowing, trimming and discharging cargo falls on charterers. Since most tramp vessels, particularly bulkers, carry a wide variety of cargoes, it will frequently be necessary for the holds to be cleaned of residues of the previous cargo before the next cargo can be loaded. Clause 8 of the NYPE form, which is the clause setting out charterers’ responsibility for loading and stowage, and so on, also provides that ‘the Captain … shall render all customary assistance with ship’s crew … .’ To what, if any, extent are owners obliged to provide the crew for the purpose of cleaning the holds of the residues of charterers’ last cargo in order to prepare the ship for their next cargo? The routine cleaning of a vessel’s cargo compartments is customarily carried out by the crew during the vessel’s ballast voyage to the next port of loading. Many time charters contain an additional cleaning clause which attempts to define the crew’s cleaning duties. Even in the absence of a specific cleaning clause, there is no doubt that ‘customary assistance’ implies that at least routine or ‘normal’ cleaning will be carried out by the crew. Washing down of holds and sweeping up of cargo residues falls within what is customary. Difficulties arise in practice where the extent or complexity of the cleaning task means that cleaning will take a long time and be very laborious. With the absence of specific agreement in the charter party, it seems that the concept of ‘customary assistance’ does not extend to work requiring special equipment or training. Support for this view is found in the judgment of Donaldson, J. in The BELA KRAJINA [1975] : ‘The removal of soft non-adhering rust is the duty of the crew, and can be performed, albeit with difficulty, in ships of the size of the Bela Krajina, always given time and calm weather … The removal of hard adhering rust is a major operation which cannot be done by the crew during the course of a ballast voyage. It necessitates the erection of staging, and mechanical derusting equipment … It cannot be done efficiently and completely by the crew on a vessel of the size of the Bela Krajina … Cleaning of holds does not include chipping steel. It does include removal of large loose rust patches in accessible locations. Customary assistance does not extend to scaling operations requiring the use of sophisticated tools like pneumatic chipping hammers, high-pressure water jets or sand-blasting equipment.’ The degree of cleaning and the time required to carry it out will naturally vary depending on the characteristics of the cargo last carried and the nature of the next intended cargo. Provided that the crew are not asked to carry out unusually hazardous or arduous cleaning duties, and provided that they clean with reasonable diligence, owners will have complied with their duty to lend ‘customary assistance’. By undertaking to give ‘customary assistance’ in general, and to provide crew to carry out cleaning duties, ship owners in no way guarantee that the crew’s cleaning efforts will be successful or will necessarily satisfy the inspection by the shippers’ surveyor at the port of loading. There is no question of the vessel being off-hire, just because cleaning takes much longer than expected. This is because cleaning of holds is a service like any other under the charter and is the service immediately required of the vessel at the time in question. It cannot be said that time has been ‘lost’, by reason of any off-hire event, if the crew are carrying out ‘normal’ cleaning without losing time through neglect of duty or inefficiency.