COLUMN | The ubiquitous marine surveyor [The Wet Detective]

Photo: Maritime Survey Australia

Some twenty years ago it was suggested to the UK Government that marine surveying should be a recognised profession and that they should help fund apprenticeships.

A meeting was held in London where all stakeholders attended. It was clear that the government representatives had no idea what a marine surveyor is. Their representative asked all around the table for their opinion to which each and every one responded that they could not operate without them. More about this later….

Yes, they are everywhere. Often hidden from public view, they are out there. Singapore has the largest number of marine surveyors per square kilometre than any other city in the world, particularly since the island state has such a large shipping industry, including ship building, ship repair, container handling, bunkering and logistics services. So, what is their role?

They are the “eyes and ears” of their clients, being employed to assess the condition, value and risk factors affecting all types of vessel together with investigation losses. Their product is a formal, written report to the client.

Marine surveyors are in two main groups, merchant vessel surveyors and pleasure craft surveyors. These can be further subdivided into “staff” and “independent” marine surveyors. The former is employed by organisations such as classification societies, government departments, flag states etc. The latter tends to be self-employed and “independent”, assessing the risks not covered by the former.

So, you want to buy a ship? Will it be new or second hand? If it is new, it will need to be designed and constructed to certain standards before it can operate. The standards are defined by the classification societies, or “Class”, and built to class rules so that owners will be able to obtain marine insurance cover.

The class surveyor will be a staff surveyor with one of the 20 or so recognised and approved societies such as Lloyds Register and the American Bureau of Shipping.

Class surveyors will attend at various times during the construction of the vessel and her equipment. This may be in several locations, including the shipyard, the foundry where the anchors are being cast etc. Using Class is no guarantee of quality. It is impossible for the class surveyor to be on site every day. Classification societies are paid a fee for their services, with their staff surveyors attending at key times during construction.

There have been some classic (excuse the pun) errors, such as the faulty casting of 18 class-approved anchors for six new Asian-built container vessels. During the maiden voyage across the Pacific of the first vessel, the starboard anchor broke in two at the upper end of the stock. All 18 anchors had to be replaced at the classification society’s cost. Many vessels built in China in recent years to Class rules have been so poorly constructed that buyers have sold the new vessel to other buyers on the vessel’s delivery.

Insurance may be for hull and machinery (H&M) or Protection and Indemnity Association (P&I) cover. The former relates to the hull and machinery only whilst the latter protects ship owners against most other risks, including cargo damage, crew injury and pollution. H&M cover is obtained through brokers at Lloyds of London whilst P&I cover is obtained from one of the P&I Clubs like Britannia, UK P&I Club, Swedish Club, GARD, West of England, Standard, etc.

P&I cover came about when owners grouped to together in an association to mutually protect and indemnify each other’s vessels against those risks not covered by H&M insurance. Owners contribute an annual “call” based on their gross tonnage with the fund being administered by a club manager.

The P&I surveyor will be an independent surveyor subcontracted by the managers of the P&I Club. Owners apply to a P&I Club to have their vessels “entered”, on the understanding that a condition survey will be carried out by one of their independent and accredited marine surveyors, usually within six months.

If defects are found a follow-up survey will be carried out. When there are accidents and incidents an independent marine surveyor will attend on behalf of the club. This puts the surveyor in a difficult position of “piggy in the middle”, as he is appointed by the managers to survey a members’ vessel. Bedside manner is thus a critical asset in difficult situations.

Those buying a second-hand vessel, will usually hire a marine surveyor to carry out a pre-purchase condition survey to assess the condition of the vessel. These, again, tend to be independent marine surveyors. The surveyor’s product is a report that allows the client to decide whether to buy the vessel or not. A competent surveyor should be able to assess all areas of the vessel and calculate costs for any necessary repairs.

When the vessel starts to operate there will be other surveyors who attend on board. Ship owners often hire their vessel or “charter” them to others, known as “charterers”. When the vessel goes “on hire”, an independent marine surveyor will inspect the vessel and record its condition.

When the ship comes off charter another independent marine surveyor will carry out an “off-hire” inspection to assess the condition and report on any damage or “wear and tear”. Such surveyors usually include a bunker survey where the amounts of fuel and lubricating oils on board are recorded, the costs of those used during the charter being to the charterers’ account.

Ships are built to carry cargoes and earn “freight” i.e. money, for their owners. It is a well-known fact that 95 per cent of the world’s commodities are carried by sea, from bulk cargoes to processed goods.

Cargoes vary from general, containerised, refrigerated, dry bulk and liquid bulk to passengers. Marine surveyors are often required to inspect a ship and its cargo before and during loading aboard ships to ensure that they are in good condition and cargo stowed in an appropriate manner. When damage occurs during a voyage, a marine surveyor will be appointed by cargo owners or insurers to assess the damage and costs. Consequently, marine cargo surveyors tend to be the largest sub-group of merchant vessel surveyors.

Marine surveying can be further subdivided into pro-active and reactive surveys, i.e. those carried out before a voyage to ensure that the vessel or cargo are in an appropriate condition and those carried out when damage has been sustained to the vessel, cargo or other property.

Independent H&M surveyors will often be called upon to carry out reactive type surveys, to investigate the cause, nature and extent of damage due to fire, explosion, grounding and collisions. The surveyor will report to the H&M underwriters so that they can set aside the necessary funds to compensate the assured.

There are other sub-groups of marine surveyors, such as heavy lift surveyors. These surveyors will ensure that the arrangements for lifting a heavy load are appropriate and will monitor the lift. Then there are the marine warranty surveyors (MWS), which provide an independent third-party technical review and approval of high value and/or high risk marine construction and transportation project operations, from the planning stages through to the physical execution.

The need for this type of surveyor is becoming greater each day with the increase in the number of offshore operations being undertaken, including oil and gas exploration, oil and gas recovery, and offshore wind farms.

By far the largest number of marine surveyors are in the pleasure craft section. Pleasure craft can range from a dinghy to a mega-yacht and fabricated from timber, steel, aluminium, concrete, glass reinforced plastic (GRP) or carbon fibre.

Like merchant vessels, larger pleasure craft, those over 500 GRT, tend to be built to class rules. Smaller craft may be built to other, local standards.

For non-class surveys, an independent marine surveyor will attend at various stages during construction to ensure that the vessel meets requisite standards. Once operational, a marine surveyor will carry out a condition survey on behalf of prospective insurers. Marine surveyors will also attend on board a vessel when involved in an incident, on behalf of insurers.

Pleasure craft surveying tends to be the most litigious. One of the biggest problems in this type of surveying is that the prospective buyer may be in love with the boat and nothing you can say will change their view of the vessel.

This can be despite the marine surveyor offering and independent, objective and expert opinion of the vessel. Pleasure craft are often purchased by professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants, who will sue the marine surveyor at the drop of a hat. Many do not see the marine surveyor as a professional. This is despite most marine surveyors having spent many years gaining relevant qualifications and experience in their field.

Then there are those marine surveyors who progress to become marine consultants, specialising in specific areas of shipping in which they have become experts. During litigation, when lawyers cannot agree on the technical aspects of a case, a marine consultant may be appointed to offer an expert opinion on the matter. In the event that the matter still cannot be resolved, the marine consultant may appear in court as an expert witness.

Being involved in such wide ranging and interesting activities there is a lot of job satisfaction in being a marine surveyor/consultant. Every day is different, with new challenges and something new learned. For more information on becoming a marine surveyor contact the author at: mikewallassociates@gmail.com

As to my first paragraph, a Marine Surveyor Apprenticeship scheme has recently been given formal UK Government approval with funding of £24,000 per apprentice available over 48 months, the time the apprenticeship takes to complete. Full details of the apprentice scheme can be found at the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education web site.

Gone are the days of a third mate walking down a gangway and establishing himself as a marine surveyor by nailing a brass plate outside an office. There is now a formal career structure in place for those wishing to enter the profession with several organisations offering distance learning courses in marine surveying, such as the Lloyds Maritime Academy, Maritime Training Academy, International Institute of Marine Surveying, and Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors. Those with seagoing experience and a senior Certificate of Competency together with a Diploma in Marine Surveying are a valuable addition to marine surveying and consultancy firms.


Mike Wall

Mike Wall has been a marine educationalist for more than 50 years, writing training modules and books on various shipping technical subjects. Mike has also been a marine surveyor and consultant for more than 30 years, operating his own company in New Zealand, Fiji and Hong Kong. Due to his qualifications and experience he has been appointed to carry out many varied investigations and to give expert opinions. He is also an accredited mediator.