Cold snap leads to legal questions about how to deal with risks of sea ice

Cold snap leads to legal questions about how to deal with risks of sea ice | BDM Blog | BDM Law

Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in enquiries about navigation in sea ice. Mostly these relate to very cold conditions in the Baltic, particularly in the Gulf of Bothnia, which has been, and still is, exposing vessels to the dangers of ice floes and to becoming trapped by sea ice.

Most charters give the charterers the right to trade between safe ports and places within Institute Warranty Limits and within International Navigation Limits (INL). The INL provides a range of dates for safe navigation in certain areas, including the Baltic. However, the onset of early ice is a real problem because it can arise outside those limits. Many charters permit trading notwithstanding the INL limits on payment of an additional premium and/or provision of a Letter of Indemnity but that does not deal with the issue of what happens where there is early ice but trading is still permissible under the INL? We have also seen circumstances where the BIMCO standard ice clauses have been deleted which raises the possibility of trading in ice or ice like conditions. Does that mean that ship owners have agreed to run the risk?

Whether a nominated port or place is safe depends on various factors including whether it can be safely reached, used, and left without, in the absence of some abnormal occurrence, being exposed to dangers that cannot be avoided by the exercise of good navigation and seamanship (The Eastern City [1958] 2 Lloyds Rep 127). Ice floes present risks that require increased vigilance if the vessel is to remain safe. Many P&I Club loss prevention departments produce guidance on navigation in ice and BIMCO have produced “The Ice Navigation and Seamanship Handbook”. It is important that ship owners are aware of and follow this guidance and it should be reflected in the vessel’s ISM manual. If they fail to do so then, in the event of damage to the ship, it is more difficult for their insurers to recover the losses sustained from charterers. A useful starting point is this loss prevention update issued by our friends at Gard.

We are now dealing with several cases where ship owners are concerned about proceeding to the Baltic and are asking what steps they can legally take to protect their position. We are also advising charterers who have fixed business that requires the ship to proceed to the Baltic and are now faced with reluctant ship owners. Those facing similar issues are advised to contact our team.

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Nick Burgess
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