The freedom to put life before financial interests

Simon Tatham imagines an owner with a conscience giving a charterer a late-night dose of reality.

“Good evening Frank – it’s Bill here, sorry to call so late. We’ve not spoken. We’re the owners of that new PSV you people have just employed working your rigs offshore Nigeria. I sit in operations here in Oslo and I called your local office just now but I was put on to you. We have just come on charter and we are taking supplies out to the Northern rig – there have been some delays as you may know.”

“Hi there Bill – good to hear from you. You can say that about delays again! I’m not necessarily pointing the finger only at you guys, but they are screaming from the wellhead for those materials. Anyhow, what can I do for you this time of night?”

“We’ve had a call from the master who says that a product tanker is on fire and drifting down on to one of those Shell platforms to the west. He wants to cut loose and give them assistance. I am asking for your permission to let us do that.”

“Look Bill, I don’t know what’s going on down there, but what I do know is that if we don’t get those materials loaded up by yesterday, we’re talking about some major downtime on the rig. Houston are going to have my b…. for breakfast if I tell them that it isn’t going to happen because we let your tug head off on some speculative frolic.”

“I appreciate that Frank, but our vessel is ideally placed – she can be there in four hours – we move the casualty out of trouble, maybe do what we can with our fi-fi, then hand over to the professional salvors who are on the way. Their ETA is around 24 hours later.”

“Bill, I am going to have to say no to this. We have a job to do, it’s urgent, and that’s my priority. We are not in the business of salvage and nor are you.”

“Frank, before we go any further, have you looked at our contract – the Supplytime?”


“Well, I have had a word with our solicitors in London as I don’t pretend to know how these things work. They tell me and it says – this is clause 18(b) in the small print – that ‘the Vessel shall be at liberty to undertake attempts at salvage’. As we read it, we have the right to do this. Liberty is synonymous with a freedom or a right – you’ve got to agree with that?”

“I don’t have to agree with anything. This is our charter, we are paying for the tug and if we say no, we say no.”

“Its not as straightforward as that, Frank. It says here that subject to charterers’ consent we have that right. That’s why I’m making this call. But it goes on to say that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld.”

“OK, so what do you say to me if I withhold? Standing in my shoes it’s completely unreasonable to delay critical rig operations for other people’s problems.”

“What I am told is that you can’t just look at it from your own perspective. Sure that’s a factor, but a subjective one. You’ve got to look at the wider picture as well. We can do this and get back on schedule in 24-30 hours. That’s not unreasonable.”

“Well, I’m sorry, the answer is simply no.”

“Then I am sorry, but I am going to have to invoke clause 18(a).”


“Yup. That says that ‘the Vessel shall be permitted to deviate for the purpose of saving life at sea without prior approval or notice to Charterers’. The tanker is on fire, also at risk of collision and her crew are in danger.”

“Look here Bill, I’m not going to argue with this. You go ahead and just get back on charter as soon as you can. Will we get our costs back?”

“In fact we go off charter, so you’ve no hire costs. Then we have to give you, as charterers, half of the net salvage earnings.”

“I hear you. Good luck and keep me posted.”