Superyacht hull coating is a very litigious area, where both yards and owners needs to cooperate on expected outcomes. In this article, experienced Shipping litigator and Marine Insurance specialist Daniel Crockford, discusses the complex issue.
Numerous articles have been written on the subject and every trade forum that I attend seems to feature a session dedicated to the standards and pitfalls of superyacht coatings. There is even an international conference to discuss and agree technical standards so that there is less risk that a dispute will arise. But why is this an area that continues to cause such debate and lead to so many disputes? More importantly what can be done by the industry to minimise the risks of creating situations that lead to dispute?
Most lawyers and surveyors you talk to will probably tell you that they are regularly involved in a number of these claims and some will have a horror story to tell and quote the astronomical sums of money required to settle a claim. These claims rarely reach the public domain as they are settled behind closed doors or decided within the confidential confines of an arbitration hearing.
A preventative measure of such litigation is to agree and apply internationally recognised technical standards. Such standards can then be applied in new build and refit contracts and give some meat to such litigation friendly terms as ‘the vessel will be coated to the highest superyacht standard’. Furthermore, standards can be a great aid in disputes and can have a short-circuiting effect if they can be applied when looking at the disputed coating question.
Furthermore standards can be a great aid in disputes and can have a short-circuiting effect if they can be applied when looking at the disputed coating in question.
However, I would argue that standards only go some way. In my experience, claims relating to superyacht coatings have revolved around human error or unrealistic expectation. With these two areas, standards can assist but there is a lot more that yards and owners can do to avoid these situations.
On the human error side yards must ensure that they fulfil the criteria for the type of work that will be required for the painting of the yacht. In particular the environment in which the superyacht is painted is crucial and if this cannot be provided then they should not accept the project.
Similarly, adequate and realistic time estimates will need to be factored into the project timetable to allow the surface to be properly prepared and for coatings to be applied. The sheer area of a superyacht hull means that it will take a significant amount of time and there is more chance of encountering a problematic area that needs extra preparation and attention.
A joint responsibility
With regards to expectations this is a two way process. Although owners may be working through a number of intermediaries they must be made aware by the yards of any possible limitations that their paint choices will have. Promising the world when it comes to hull coatings is a very high bar to reach.
Yards must ensure that the owners are fully informed as to the maintenance requirements when cleaning the hull as many claims arise when owners complain 1-3 years after the coating has been applied because there has been too vigorous attempts made to maintain that mirror finish.
Owners have a joint responsibility to ensure that they fully understand both the standards that their yards are working to and any limitations that either the design of the superyacht has on the planned coating and that the choice of coating will have. Ask questions of whoever the project manager is so that when the yacht is delivered new or returned after a refit there are no nasty surprises.
Ultimately it is the owner who needs to be happy and proud of the finished product.
The objectivity of standards is a tool that can be used and can assist greatly. However, the final product must, subjectively, impress the owner and those who see the superyacht. Perhaps this conundrum will always create dispute and discussion but I am sure that if yards allow the correct environment and time as I state above, and that owners expectations are both handled well and are realistic in the first place, then many claims can be avoided.
This article was written for and first published, in December 2014 by www.superyachtbusiness.net
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.