Spain using PSC fines as piggy bank?

With Spain facing the same sort of debt problems facing several other Eurozone economies, its Treasury has come under domestic criticism for pretty much going to any length to raise money. According to one well-placed local observer, the depths the Treasury is plumbing include trying to use Port State Control as a fund raiser.

Bull Marine Surveyors SL of Spain is a correspondent for the Skuld P&I club and, in a warning posted on Skuld's web site, it says it believes the Spanish Government has instructed "the Head Office of PSC in Madrid to trace, arrest and fine vessels in order to get extra income."

Bull says the amount of the fines is determined on a case-by-case basis, "although our experience shows that it is always within EUR 60,000 - 90.000 and normally EUR 60,000 which is the minimum amount which has to be guaranteed in order to release the vessel."

Apparently after the PSC inspector goes on board and deficiencies are found meriting detention, the Harbor Master arrests the vessel and requests a deposit or Bank Guarantee (no IOUs are accepted). The vessel is detained as a precautionary measure to guarantee the payment of a possible sanction - where a guarantee will have to be provided to release the vessel.

Normally, the fines imposed are alleged to be for an offense under a Spanish law that considers it an offense if a captain fails to inform correctly of or fails to provide any information on any deficiency equipment, safety, propulsion etc. will be considered an offense.

Bull says that "even a small failure or lack of an official stamp in the normal books can be a reason to arrest and to fine a vessel."

"As everyone knows," says Bull, "anyone who wishes to find things amiss on board, can find them without any problems, as even new ships are not perfect ships."

Vessels being targeted are tankers and bulk cargoes, but not Spanish flag vessels, passenger vessels or large shipowners The focus is on non-EC flags, and medium to small tonnage.

In another cash raising wrinkle, in usually about one month after the ship has been released under a financial guarantee, a fine will be imposed that must be paid before the amount paid as a guarantee is returned and the authorities will then still hold on to the guarantee for about another month.

Bull advises that getting the ship out of detention in the first place is best handled by paying the amount in cash. as getting a bank guarantee arranged and processed by the authorities will take up to two to three days (during which the ship will remain under detention) -- and trying to pay with cash will take several hours.

"Presently the situation is so drastic that any silly excuse is used to detain vessels following all laws and regulations," says Bull. The firm says "shipowners should be extra vigilant when calling Spanish Ports since according to this new regime, PSC Inspectors will aim to find detainable deficiencies, resulting in large fines and delays."

It will be interesting to see whether this all shows up in the next statistics from the Paris MOU.