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Delays due to COVID & offhire

If a ship is held by quarantine officers because a crew member is suspected of being COVID positive then the risk of delay falls on owners or time charterers? In other words, can the vessel be put off-hire? An interesting question that came up London Arbitration 6/22.

There was delay at the discharge port because the quarantine officer did not give permission to the ship to discharge since one of the crew had high fever (37.4 deg C). The nucleic acid test result conducted by health auth. came out to be -ve (negative). As per the off-hire clause the vessel could be put off-hire if there was a deficiency of men or any other cause. Charterers said that the risk of delay was with the owners and that charterers were entitled to recover that in the form of ‘off hire’. Owners said that the vessel was simply complying with port authorities’ health requirements.

As per the Tribunal the body temperature was within normal range for a human body and the actions of the quarantine officer were excessive and unjustified. The vessel also did not fail to comply with vaccination and sanitary regulations of the port and there was no ‘deficiency of men’. The vessel was on-hire throughout the period.

Quite a few details are missing from the decision, but it still sheds some light on how off-hire provisions might be interpreted in such situations.

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