An essential player in freight transport : the marine surveyor

From docking to unloading, ships and cargo face many twists and turns. What are the specificities of the Marine Surveyor? What are the situations in which these surveyors are called in?  One of them tells us about his career and provides us with various anecdotes about his work as a Maritime Surveyor.


I have been a Marine Surveyor for twenty-three years. I graduated from the International Institute Of Marine Surveying (IIMS), and with the experience of more than a hundred assignments, I have the pleasure of being regularly called upon by shipowners, charterers, insurers, receivers, P&I Clubs (Protection and Indemnity Clubs) or even International Organisations.


What is a Marine Surveyor ?


My core business is the field of maritime expertise, which has been defined by the AFNOR NFX-50-110 norm as “a set of activities the purpose of which is to provide a client, in response to the question asked, with an interpretation, opinion or recommendation, as objectively founded as possible, drawn up on the basis of available knowledge and demonstrations accompanied by professional judgement: demonstrations include tests, analyses, inspections, simulations, etc”.


Being a Marine Surveyor is exciting, it requires a lot of energy and to be very healthy. It is not easy, and those who aspire to a quiet life should consider finding another job. It is important to be well-trained in order to be competent, to speak and write fluently in English which is the language of reference in this field, and to keep abreast of international maritime news. It is also necessary to show great objectivity, impartiality and integrity, as well as international reference.


The missions of the Maritime Surveyor: from report to investigation


As a Marine Surveyor, I possess various skills. My main missions are focused on monitoring loading and stowage operations on ships, the inspection of goods in warehouses, inspection of all types of containers. as well as the qualitative and quantitative inspection of raw materials, or investigations in the event of an incident.


For example, damaged bags of rice sometimes arrive in Douala. I am therefore often asked by shipowners to count the damage that has occurred during freight and during handling, to record the facts involved, the various factors of the incident, the responsibility of the various parties involved, and to establish an estimate of the damage so as to facilitate the compensation of the cargo receivers.


During manoeuvres in the port, it might happened that ships may come into contact, which could cause significant damage to the ship, and potentially to the quay. For example, at the insurers’ request, I was appointed to determine the nature and extent of the damage and also to supervise the repairs. I noticed that the afterdeck had been damaged by the impact, and damage also included the rudder, the stern light, a hold, and the stern railing. Repairs were carried out under our supervision, at a cost of 97,635 EUR.


Within the framework of the The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) developed by the International Maritime Organization, maritime authorities carry out inspections on arriving ships to prevent any risk of pollution. If a ship is suspected of breaking the law, a counter-expertise is organised jointly with the merchant navy and the P&I expert of the ship (an expert from the Protection and Indemnity Clubs, i.e. an association of marine insurers covering their civil liability risks) in order to determine the causes and extent of the potential pollution and thus, to protect the coasts and waters of Cameroon thanks to this collaborative work.





Tricky situations


I have been particularly marked by an expertise during which a decaying corpse has been discovered under a pile of bags in a ship’s hold. All the operations stopped, and the goods transported were immediately seized by phytosanitary authorities. It was decided that the cargo would be totally destroyed as it came into contact with a corpse. In fact, a majority of the cargo was found to be healthy according to laboratory analysis. However, the consignees refused to take delivery of all the unloaded goods, which had a value of almost 5 million euros. The various investigations and the autopsy carried out on the body showed that death had allegedly occurred as a result of a violent altercation on board the vessel, and that the body had then been buried under the rice bags.


I have been marked by this expertise first of all because of its duration (about 8 months), by the involvement of a large number of Experts (e.g.: the Medical Expert, the Charterers’ P&I Expert, the cargo insurers’ Expert, etc.), and by the enormous cost of the claim paid by the shipowners and their P&I Club. The final decision to destroy 3,500 tons of rice that was still edible in a country where famine prevails was also a major concern.


Expert, specialist or consultant?


My peers recognise me and I am totally independent. I have gained experienced over years, and I master the multiple aspects of marine expertise, as well as my scope of action. If necessary,  I can call upon complementary expertise. Being an expert also means being able to recognize your limits. I am able to explain to my clients my reasoning and the solutions that I suggest in order to make a decision, according to what I know at a particular moment and thanks to my experience.  In addition, I always try to deepen my skills by participating in training courses, seminars, conferences and debates between experts. The difference is also marked by the nature of the report that is issued at the end of the mission as it is objective and does not take into account the interests of any party.


However, the cooperation between experts and decision-makers could be facilitated with a common platform or an association that could serve as a link between them and provide decision-makers with competent experts to carry out their eventual missions, and also issue articles to inform each other on the regulations in the different harbours.





Unfortunately, we meet a lot of so-called marine surveyors who undervalue our work with their lack of professionalism and their limited skills. P&I Clubs, shipowners or charterers sometimes let local agents appoint surveyors. If you wish to work with them, you often have to grant them favours (commissions) and in return they grant you assignments. Competence has little part in this process. Others would like to use competent experts but without paying them the right amount, and as long as it doesn’t change, there will always be a need for an independent accreditation body to help find competent experts.


In theory, marine surveyors should be objective and independent, but in reality they often depend on their clients. If clients are satisfied with a report that is favourable to their point of view, they will keep on working with this expert. If not, they will choose another one. Each party chooses an expert to represent its interest, and each expert will naturally seek to defend the interests of his or her client. This kills the independence and therefore the objectivity of marine surveyors.


Experts Without Borders is an independent accreditation body that accredits experts all over the world, a sort of quality label. The Federation has developed a latest-generation platform that enables those looking for Experts to find independently accredited Experts quickly, easily and safely. After a free of charge registration on our website www.expertssansfrontiè, you can submit your request for an Expert assignment. You will receive a summarized, anonymized and verified profile sheet of the profiles of the accredited Experts who apply. At the end of the mission, you will also be able to give feedback to the Experts who collaborated on the mission.


Thomas Célestin Ekedi