We were instructed to perform an End of Charter Bunker and Condition Survey (Off Hire Bunker Survey).
Upon the surveyor’s arrival at the vessel, the Chief Engineer verbally informed the surveyor not to check the Fuel Oil Settling or Service tanks as they were empty, therefore did not need to be inspected. The surveyor continued with their inspection, all gauges had been read in the engine room, and quantities were determined.
However, the quantities in the fuel oil settling or service tanks could not be determined, as the gauges both showed zero quantity, which was unusual for a vessel that was due to depart in the coming days. It was noted that the needles were hanging at the bottom, indicating they were broken. With the quantities that had been determined from the engine room, it appeared that there were 23 tonnes of fuel unaccounted for.
As it is common practice for any zero-level gauge to be physically inspected, the surveyor requested to have the manhole opened to the tank to inspect visually. The Chief Engineer refused to have the manhole opened and stated that the surveyor would have to sign a letter of protest for any liability of any spillage or damage to the contents of the tank. Only then could the surveyor open the manhole himself. The surveyor refused to sign this letter, the Chief Engineer then asked for the surveyor to sign off on the survey, even though there were 23 tonnes of fuel missing.
The surveyor used an infrared thermometer to read the temperatures in the tanks showing zero on the gauge. If they were empty, the tanks would have settled to an ambient temperature of around 22-25° C. Both tanks were reading over 40°C, indicating that there was something inside the tanks. This information was passed on and the Chief Engineer still insisted the tanks were empty and wanted us to sign that the calculations were correct. We refused to sign off on this, as it would potentially have been our liability, and if we had given inaccurate information to the charterers, they could claim against us for negligence.
This further demonstrates the need to check everything and not always take the word of a master or chief engineer as being correct.