When considering the risks of corrupt activity taking place on a ship, it is important for shipowners, managers and charterers to understand the very great pressure that can be put on the ship’s master to pay small sums to allow the day to day business of the ship to continue unimpeded. It is widely acknowledged that the Master is under considerable daily pressure due to commercial, personnel, financial, safety and port state considerations, as well as a myriad of other distractions. Having to fend off avaricious local officials who insist on payment before agreeing to carry out their duties – known as facilitating or grease payments – presents an additional frustration for professional masters who naturally just want to focus on operating the ship.
In any company anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) policy, it is important to consider these pressures and practical matters when thinking about how to ensure compliance with the 2010 Bribery Act and other anti-bribery statutes. A policy or guidance given to a master, written in the relative calm of an office in Akti Miaouli or London, may not be realistic should the master be placed under real pressure by aggressive local officials.
The reality is that if an ABC policy is unworkable it will be ignored. Many masters view giving a gift to someone in order to get a job done as distinct from payment made in order to gain an advantage such as a surveyor accepting a dirty hold or moving the ship a couple of places up the queue for a berth which they would view as bribery. In many places, a grease payment is obligatory and the consequences of not giving a small gift of cigarettes, alcohol or food can cause delay, loss and damage, false arrest or detention out of all proportion to the value of the “gift” or payment refused. And it is wrong to think that such behaviour only happens in certain developing countries; we hear that many ports in the developed world are as bad, if not worse, for these demands.
Any robust and workable policy must be written with these factors in mind. The policy alone will not keep the company safe from allegations of bribery however well drafted – the master will need training and support from all interested parties if he is to be able to resist effectively. Aside from issues regarding threats of physical harm, which is not unknown, in real terms the refusal to pay a bribe will often result in a negative impact on a ship’s operation and efficiency and, in turn, its ability to meet its commercial deadlines – which usually has a detrimental effect on the master’s career. Without support and training, the choice for the master can be stark – agree to the minor payment and make the problem “go away” or suffer the consequences. Naturally, masters might assess the risk and choose the latter option believing that the minor infraction is without any real consequence. However, from a corporate point of view, this signals a failure, certainly in terms of the UK Bribery Act, to prevent bribery by having adequate procedures in place to prevent such conduct (Section 7 of the Act).