Port State Control (PSC) is said to be the inspection of foreign ships in various national ports by PSC inspectors for the purpose of verifying both masters and crew onboard competency, along with the ship’s condition and whether equipment onboard comply with various international conventions requirements (i.e. SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW, etc.) and whether the vessel is manned and operated in compliance with applicable international laws.

PSC aims to validate whether foreign flagged vessels comply with the applicable international safety and pollution prevention conventions and crew living conditions. In case a vessel is found not to be in compliance with requirements, PSC system imposes actions to ensure they are brought into compliance.

The ever increasing importance given from various countries on PSC has brought them together to work on various memoranda of understanding (MOU) in an effort to coordinate and more effectively inspect the ships.

A detention is an order issued to a vessel prohibiting it from sailing from a port. Such type of orders are issued whenever a Port State Control Officer (PSCO) considers a vessel not to be in compliance with international rules and regulations and is considered as a threat to the safety of the crew and the environment. The consequences of a detention are multiple and not limited only to financial such as loss of hire/freight, penalties/fines.

For the duration of a vessel detention, the vessel remains idle. A detention can last hours or even days, depending on the severity of the deficiencies. Financial gain in shipping is achieved when a vessel is trading / sailing. Vessels are built to sail across the oceans, and as characterized by economists, ships are engines which are contributing to the economic growth. A vessel detained in a port by PSC, is in danger of being off hire, a matter which has a direct adverse economic impact. It should also be stated that a ship does not only generate income to the owner, the crew and the charterer, but also to the ports she visits.

A detention can be prolonged if structural repairs are required. A nightmare for all concerned parties are unscheduled repairs that may be requested after a PSC detention. Unscheduled repairs may prove to be costly as the Owners do not have the luxury of time and are in a less favourable position to negotiate with repair workshops and spare suppliers. In addition, time constraints may hinder the quality of work. In case of detention, owners will have to deal with the extended off hire of the vessel until the repairs are completed.

Another financial burden will be the inspection fee that is levied on vessels. In the Paris MOU region all PSC authorities impose a fee for the inspection after the detention, varying from a few hundred to a few thousand Euros (up to 2500€). This fee is a way for the PSC authorities to recover the cost of a second inspection on the same vessel.

The increased importance of PSC in the modern shipping, led to the creation of the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) on PSC. As in all aspects of business the resources available to the authorities for PSC are not unlimited. Available qualified personnel and time are scarce.

Therefore, in order to optimise their efforts and to utilise at the maximum possible degree their effectiveness on inspections, all the MOUs have a system for targeting ships for inspection. In all models for ship targeting, the detentions highlight a ship as a priority for inspection. Usually these added inspections are more thorough and detailed with all the inheriting hassles.

Several of the MOUs, have managed to set up and implement in a professional manner a systematic way of targeting and inspecting ships, training and keeping the PSCOs updated. These efforts have further contributed to the acceptance from the maritime industry and the respect from the people involved, as a whole, and now the industry pays attention to their published annual results.

Whether a ship has good PSC records or not, is a major fact that influences charterers decisions to engage business with the ship – owner. In particular, oil majors, especially after the “ERIKA” disaster in 1999, focus their attention to the PSC results and give their business to tankers that are less likely to become a liability and embarrassment to them. There are cases where well run vessels lost chartering opportunities due to unfortunate inspection results.

Similarly to the case mentioned above, vessel Registries have restrictions for the vessels that sail under their flag. In the case of Cyprus, if a vessel is banned from any MOU then it is not allowed to be registered under the Cyprus flag. Furthermore, Cyprus has in place a policy that the vessels which are detained by PSC 3 times within the last 2 years prior to the date of application for registration on grounds of safety or pollution prevention, as indicated in the EQUASIS data base and the data bases of the US Coastguard, Paris MOU and Tokyo MOU, are not accepted for registration in the Cyprus Registry.

At the same time information is available in electronic format to everyone today even after a vessel changes ownership / management / flag as the records will always be available. In certain instances potential buyers may seek to pay below the market value for purchasing a vessel or they may simply lose interest to acquire the vessel. This is quite likely in particular for ships that have been banned from any MOU.

The inspection record will follow a vessel for her entire life cycle.

Vessels that have a refusal of access order issued against them (banning) by a Paris MOU member State will have to be re-inspected by the PSCO of the State that issued the order. This inspection must take place in a country outside the Paris MOU region, meaning that a team of PSCO will have to attend the inspection which will have to take place in a third country, to verify that the reasons for banning the vessel have elapsed, with all the expenses occurred to be on owner’s account.

Recognised Organisations (ROs) and Flag States issue circulars notifying owners for upcoming changes in the national and international regulations with necessary actions to be taken in order to comply. Several ROs provide regular updates on areas where as statistics show, vessels tend not to be in compliance and where the PSCOs tend to inspect more in depth.

All relevant information must also be provided the crew on board the vessels. Masters and Chief Engineers, are to be well informed of the applicable regulations at all time and must take all necessary steps and measures to prepare the ship to successfully pass a PSC inspection.

Frequent training sessions both ashore and on board will further assist the crew on board to be better prepared for a successful PSC inspection.