The Herald E-Edition

Cargo ship’s fuel load seized in Gqeberha

Damaged polyester chips consignment sparks urgent court action in spat over R15m owed

Brandon Nel

What was meant to be a quick pit stop turned into a three-day international nightmare for those on board a foreign cargo vessel as SA sheriffs pitched up at the Port Elizabeth Harbour to seize bunkers of fuel in a bid to recover about R15m.

This came after the charterers of the MV Melinda bulk carrier bumped heads with a Denmark-based company over a costly mishap of damaged bags of polyester chips.

The sheriff made the move to attach the bunkers while the carrier was getting fuel from the bunkering vessel, the Minerva, in Gqeberha last week.

Clothing items that were used to absorb fuel in a bid to prevent it from spilling were also not spared.

In papers before the Gqeberha high court, Dampskibsselskabet Norden A/S, a charterer of vessels, demanded that the fuel be seized as security for the tens of thousands of euros owed for damaged cargo — the bags of polyester chips en route to Mexico.

Dampskibsselskabet, which specialises in the letting of vessels, said the fuel bunkers laden on the ship should be seized to cover the amount of €735,169.50 (about R15m).

The figure relates to bags of polyester chips that were allegedly damaged by Chinabased company Gio Shipping on board another vessel, the Tomini Destiny, in October.

The vessel had been travelling from China to Antwerp in Belgium when the goods were allegedly damaged.

After that, Gio Shipping took charter of the Melinda — the vessel at the centre of the court action.

The court bid, brought on an urgent basis, sought the arrest of the Melinda as soon as it arrived in the Port Elizabeth Harbour so that an arbitration could be held in London.

Lawyers argued that should this not happen, there would be no other way of obtaining security to satisfy their claim.

“The applicant seeks an order to effect the arrest of the [fuel bunker] to provide security for arbitration proceedings in London, wherein the applicant seeks to enforce its claim against [Gio Shipping] to provide security [money owed],” according to the court papers.

“The applicant seeks an order for the arrest of the first respondent in furtherance of its claim against [Gio Shipping].”

On May 24 last year, Dampskibsselskabet concluded a charter party with the head owner, Tomini Destiny Ltd, to time charter the MV Tomini Destiny for 13 months.

Then, on June 7 last year, it time chartered the Tomini Destiny to Geo Shipping to ship 10,910 bags of fast reheat chips to the consignee in Belgium, Refresco Europe.

On October 24, it was estab

lished that a number of the cargo bags had been damaged and Refresco Europe called for security from the vessel’s owners.

To avoid the arrest of the Tomini Destiny, the sum of €735,169.50 was furnished.

From there, Dampskibsselskabet and its insurer made several attempts to recoup the money from Gio Shipping, without success.

Dampskibsselskabet made use of LSR Services Ltd, which provides commercial investigations into low-profile companies involved in cross-border trades, and it was established that Gio Shipping was the current time charterer of the Melinda.

Dampskibsselskabet, represented by Pagdens Attorneys, had brought its application before the Melinda’s arrival in Gqeberha.

“The applicant has a real and genuine apprehension that if it obtains an arbitration award in its favour, Gio Shipping

will not satisfy such, despite the applicant’s contractual right to such,” the court papers state.

“Accordingly, if an order for the arrest of the first respondent is not granted, the applicant will be severely prejudiced as there may be no other way of obtaining security to satisfy its counterclaim.

“The urgency of this matter is self-evident owing to the fact that if the order for the arrest is not granted, the applicant will lose its opportunity to obtain security for its claims, and it is furthermore in the interest of any other interested party that the arrest be made as soon as possible.

“The first respondent [the bunkers laden on board Melinda] is currently scheduled to call for bunkers at anchorage at Gqeberha on Sunday June 18 2023, which period falls outside the operating hours of this honourable court.

“Given the nature of stemming bunkers, they are only likely to be within the territorial waters of this court for a few hours while stemming, after which it will haul anchor and continue to Mexico.

“In the circumstances, the applicant requires an order for the arrest of the first respondent to be granted prior to its arrival ... so as to allow the applicant sufficient time to effect service of the order on the first respondent before it sails out of the [Gqeberha high court’s] area of jurisdiction.”

The court granted Dampskibsselskabet’s application.

According to Vessel Finder, an online platform that provides real-time ship tracking and maritime information, Melinda arrived in Gqeberha in the early hours of June 20.

It only left on June 23 at 1.30pm when the matter was finally resolved, effectively being in port for three days and six hours.

Gio Shipping had agreed to put up a guarantee for the amount, so that the fuel — and therefore the ship — could be released from attachment.

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