Stolt – refusing bribery is working

Stolt Tankers instructs captains not to pay bribes, and on balance believes this is the right approach

Maren Schroeder, managing director of Stolt Tankers, shared this note (see image) on LinkedIn, together with a message highlighting issues its captains have to deal with on a regular basis.

In this case, the captain followed Stolt Tankers’ procedure and explained to the official that he was unable to provide cash or goods as he must abide by the law, specifically the UK Bribery Act 2010. He then reported the incident to his superintendent.

In this instance, the captain received excellent support from Stolt’s agent on site, Ms Schroeder reports. No money or other payment of goods was paid and that ‘deep physical inspection’ never happened.

“I must say that I had mixed feelings about this in the beginning. While I am against any form of corruption, I could also see the problems that would arise for our captains,” she said.

“In the old days it was normal practice in shipping to hand out cigarettes or bottles of whiskey, for example, to a pilot to ensure a safe canal passage.”

“Intentional groundings by disgruntled pilots were not unheard of; ships were unduly delayed or detained (and immediately put on hold by customers without asking questions) and occasionally ships were trashed by angry customs officials.”

“But it soon became well known that Stolt Tankers would not give anything (other than onboard hospitality – a coffee or a meal during a longer stay) and people soon stopped asking.”

“Our captains reported that they were very happy with the new approach and that their lives became easier.”

“In 2021 we only had three demands for bribes reported, despite around 6,000 termina calls during the year.”

“However, in the post-pandemic world we have seen a change for the worse again.”

“If it all goes wrong, our ship might get detained. However, it does not happen often.”

“In two years, we’ve had two undue detentions in a fleet of more than 160 ships. In both cases our customers listened to our side of the story, reviewed the evidence and did not put the ships on hold. In one case, with the help of our Flag State, we successfully appealed the detention, and it was deleted from the records.”

“In my 20 years in shipping, I have never before seen a successful appeal.”

“We are creatures of habit. If people keep giving ‘gifts’ or money, people will keep asking. Only if we collectively stop, can we make a difference.”

A seafarer can be found guilty of bribery by agreeing to give any item of value, even cigarettes, to influence the actions of an official, said Ian MacLean, master mariner and Partner, Hill Dickinson commercial law firm, speaking to Stolt’s company magazine.

The US, UK, all EU states and Singapore have anti-bribery laws with heavy fines.

It is enough to count as bribery if any small advantage is gained, such as a pilot performing a service he might otherwise delay or perform more slowly. Or a port agent agreeing to supply potable water today rather than tomorrow, to avoid delaying the vessel, in exchange for 200 cigarettes.

“The only safe course of action, irrespective of an individual’s nationality or the country they are in, is to refrain from bribery practices and advise the company if asked for a bribe,” he writes.

There are warning signs [that a fine request is illegitimate], such as only being advised about the fine verbally, where an official declines to submit the details of the fine to the agent, or if a payment is required in cash rather than to an official bank account.

The only exception to the law is when not paying a bribe can lead to a loss of “life, limb, or liberty,” he says. If paying a bribe in these circumstances it is good to have another person to act of witness to the demand and transfer of the bribe, and it should be reported to the company.

This exception does not apply to economic duress, such as paying a bribe to avoid delaying a ship.

“The evidence is that, in many ports, those who used to solicit bribes now understand that it is pointless trying to do so with ships operated by those companies that have a firm policy against the practice,” he said.




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