Vessel Damage Due to Stevedore Error: What Should the Ship’s Master Do?

As of 2017, there were more than 50,000 merchant ships in the world, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. These ships include tankers, bulk carriers and container ships.

As they handle the bulk of international trade, an have literally millions of dollars riding on them, cargo ships are considered an expensive and risky business. For this reason, it’s important for both ship owners and charterers to buy marine insurance to protect themselves financially. Some companies, like The Meco Group, also cover stevedore damage liabilities.

Who is a stevedore?

A stevedore, or docker, is a waterfront labourer responsible for overseeing the handling, loading and unloading of all cargo aboard the vessel.

The docker can use loading equipment such as a forklift and crane to move cargo containers from trucks onto the ship. They often spend long hours on the dock under any weather, but they also board the ship to check if the cargo is loaded correctly. They are an important link in the supply chain and shipping, as they make sure goods are loaded and unloaded as quickly and safely as possible.

However, there could be times when stevedore errors can cause damage to the goods or even the ship – and this could be extremely costly.

What to Do After Ship Damage Due to Stevedore Mistake

Workers waiting for the cargo ship to dock

Vessel damage due to stevedore negligence can range from repairable fixture disfigurement to major damage that affects the seaworthiness of the ship. If the stevedore has damaged the ship, the Master and the stevedore should perform a joint survey and inspection. The Master should record in detail all stevedore damage. Photographic evidence should also be taken for insurance purposes.

The Master should then immediately notify the stevedore company in a signed claim notice, which includes:

  • Port, date and time when the damage occurred
  • A detailed description of damage and its cause
  • Stevedore’s acknowledgment of the damage
  • Whether damage caused the Master to halt operations
  • If any cargo is damaged or lost
  • If any member of the crew is injured
  • If any repairs have been made, including details and hours used for this

If the stevedore is employed by a charterer, the latter could be responsible for paying for the damages, depending on the charter clause. However, unless the charter party contract states otherwise, the stevedore or the stevedore company is held liable.

Damage to the ship can affect the profit margins of the shipowner and the charterer. Usually, ships are paid only when they are voyaging, so the longer they stay on the port because of vessel damage, the more money they lose. It’s the same for charterers. The delayed delivery of goods negatively impacts the supply chain, especially if the goods are perishable.

For this reason, it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality. Proper insurance coverage protects the shipowner from any financial losses from vessel damage.