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A set of draft surveys is an important and often essential part of a ship’s cargo paperwork, providing independent evidence of the quantity of cargo received on board and discharged.

The article “Dry cargo surveys from the Club’s perspective” in Gard News issue No. 153 highlighted the continuing need for owners engaged in the carriage of dry bulk cargoes to perform accurate draft surveys. It can be said that the draft survey is the “before and after” survey, which determines, by measurement, the vessel’s displacement before and after loading or discharging. The difference between these two displacements is the weight of cargo loaded or discharged.

Recent claims have highlighted a continuing trend in cargo interests claiming for short landing of bulk cargoes, most notably cargoes of wheat and rice for West African ports. With the unusual weather experienced during the summer affecting wheat growers in Europe and North America, the price of wheat on the open markets is likely to stay high and therefore encourage claims for short landing.

The practice of measuring the amount of cargo carried and eventually delivered dates back to the beginnings of trade when tallymen were employed to count the number of bags or units delivered. With the development of seaboard trade and economies of scale, it became necessary to develop an accurate method of measuring bulk cargoes which could not easily be counted by tallymen. Thus the draft survey was born.

Samuel Plimsoll was elected the Member of Parliament for Derby, UK in the 1868 General Election and immediately began a campaign for the government to enact legislation to protect seamen from unscrupulous companies who shipped coal from the North of England to London. It was not uncommon for these ships to be grossly overloaded and many seamen’s lives were lost due to the vessels floundering en route. In 1871 the UK government amended the Merchant Shipping Act making it compulsory for every vessel to be clearly marked with a line (the Plimsoll mark), which would disappear underwater if the vessel was overloaded. Combined with the owners’ need to accurately determine the amount of cargo on board, the load line legislation allowed draft surveys to become far more accurate and widely accepted in the merchant community.

The draft survey is based on solid mathematics but usually involves one of the ship’s officers gauging the draft of the vessel from visual reference to the vessel’s forward, amidships and aft draft marks along with the estimation of any list the vessel may have. The combination of pure science and practical experience allows the officer to calculate the amount of cargo on board to within more or less 0.5 per cent of the actual quantity.

In many ports, a draft survey is the only way of independently confirming the amount of cargo the shipper declares as having been shipped and thus the only way of checking the accuracy of the quantity stated in the bill of lading (which is normally based on the shipper’s figures) and how much cargo was on board the vessel prior to the start of discharge.

Members are therefore reminded of the need, when loading and discharging dry bulk cargoes, to arrange for an independent draft survey. Many times this can be and is performed by the crew. If a surveyor is employed to perform the survey, although the cost is for the member’s account in the first instance, it is recoverable from Gard Services if the report is used in defence of a claim, subject always to the deductible.

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editor.

Gard News is published quarterly by Gard Services AS, Arendal, Norway.