A 19000 GRT bulk carrier, with newly repainted cargo holds, was chartered to carry a cargo of 28000 tonnes of phosphate fertilizer from Antwerp to Guatemala. On discharging the cargo, the ship’s crew observed that the paint coating on the holds was damaged and the underlying steel was rusting. Accordingly, the vessel’s owners initiated legal proceedings against the charter company. They claimed the substantial cost of repairing the holds, as well as other consequential losses. The claim was referred to arbitration in London.

At the request of the solicitors acting for the charter company’s insurers (defendants), Dr Chris Googan investigated the owners claim and provided expert evidence under cross-examination at the arbitration hearing.

To test the claim, he organized a comprehensive set of experiments. Steel test panels, subject to various degrees of pre-weathering, were prepared and coated with the hold’s paint system. These were then exposed to fertilizer samples, containing prescribed levels of moisture, for a period equal to the duration of the voyage. The panels were then carefully examined. The results demonstrated that it was highly improbable that the fertilizer cargo could have attacked the paint as plaintiffs alleged.

Moreover, Dr Googan also conducted a detailed examination of the quality control records of the cargo hold repainting that had been carried out in Japan prior to the voyage. He discovered a number of telling inconsistencies in those records. For example, it was a specific requirement that the paint only be applied to steel that was a minimum of 3oC above the dew point, and in conditions where the relative humidity was below 85%. The inspection records seemed to confirm that these requirements had been met throughout the eight day repainting period. However, examination of Meteorological Office records for that part of Japan revealed that the yard had consistently overstated the ambient temperature on the days in question.

he arbitration hearing accepted the evidence that the fertilizer cargo had not caused the problem; and that the probable cause was historically maintenance of the hold coating on the part of the owners, culminating in a particularly inept repainting job prior to the charter. The owner’s claim was dismissed and (unusually for such arbitrations) costs were awarded to the defendants.