Sailing in rough weather: The recent catastrophes involving the M/V EL FARO and the M/V ANTHEM OF THE SEAS, ships which were put to sea in the face of incredible storms, may result in a shift by the courts in giving significant deference to Masters making the determination as to when it is safe to go to sea.  We suspect that the courts will be looking more and more to the head office and Operations Department to intervene in these decisions when there are serious weather conditions to which the vessel could be exposed....

Emphasis on the shipper to declare cargo weight: A regulation known as the "Verified Gross Mass" Amendment to the Solace Convention is due to come into effect July 1.  It requires all container weights to be verified prior to arrival at the container terminal.  Its primary purpose is to cull out overweight containers which can be dangerous.  The burden will be on the shipper to verify the weights.  This may raise an interesting question as to whether carriers who have been held liable in the past for the weights declared by shippers on their bills of lading should continue to be responsible for those weights once shippers have an international duty to verify the accurate weights.  It may also raise issues as to whether an NVO has an obligation to independently verify the weight of containers, as a shipper cannot rely upon weights provided to it by third parties.  The NVOs are shippers vis-à-vis the ocean carriers....

Proportional discovery requirement added:  The federal courts in the United States have adopted a revised Rule 26 to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which require that "the court and the parties secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action."  As of December 1, 2015, parties can only seek discovery that is relevant to the claim or defense, and "proportional to the needs of the case."  Proportional means that the importance of the discovery has to be measured in comparison to the burden or expense of that discovery, and whether it outweighs its likely benefit.  At a conference in Houston in January, several federal court judges noted that the Rule would most likely have significant impact upon production of documents and emails, and perhaps depositions....

Security for bunker claims: The O.W. Bunker bankruptcy case in New York has still not fully confronted the issue of whether a singular transaction, like the supply of bunkers, can result in multiple liens in favor of the contractual supplier, physical supplier, and any intermediaries, and if so, whether those multiple liens can justify multiple arrests and multiple security to be posted by the shipowner.  Rumor has it that multiple securities have been required in other bunker supply cases in the Middle East and Far East.  Perhaps this is a topic which needs to be the subject of a convention....

Voluntary disclosure of bunker samples: The U.S. Coast Guard will begin this month a program of allowing shipowners to voluntarily provide samples of their bunkers to port state control officers who request testing for determining sulfur content.  The vessel would not be sanctioned if the fuel is non-compliant.  This may help narrow the gap with first class operators who feel they are the only ones going to the expense of low sulfur fuel....

MLA meets CMI: The Maritime Law Association and the Comite Maritime Internationale will be holding a joint meeting in New York from May 4 - 7, 2016.  On the agenda will be new proposed rules in respect to general average.  It should also provide an interesting forum to measure the pace of maritime legal work around the world.