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07 April 2021
On 3 March 2021 the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) expanded its suite of offshore contracts by launching the new standard time charter for accommodation support vessels, the Asvtime. This article provides an overview of the Asvtime's key features.
The Asvtime is intended for use in both the renewables and oil and gas sectors of the offshore industry. Within the rapidly developing offshore wind industry, the form is a useful basis for chartering walk-to-work (WTW) vessels and service operation vessels, particularly as offshore wind farms move further offshore. The form is based on Supplytime (the longstanding industry standard time charter for offshore service vessels) but incorporates several features of Windtime (a form developed for crew transfer vessels in the offshore wind industry (for further details please see "BIMCO soon to release the Windtime")). The objective was to develop a new form that builds on well-established industry precedents but includes tailored features for vessels whose primary function is providing accommodation for personnel performing offshore installation, operation and maintenance work. BIMCO's drafting committee consisted of members from:
According to BIMCO General Counsel Christian Hoppe:
BIMCO has, since long, provided the offshore oil and gas and renewables sectors with standard contracts covering a wide range of offshore-related activities. ASVTIME now offers a tailormade form for the use of specially equipped accommodation support vessels. By involving industry experts in the development of the new form we have ensured that it is a practical and clearly written agreement which fairly represents the interests of both parties.
In addition to a general description of the chartered vessel, the Asvtime contemplates a detailed specification of:
The form also contemplates a detailed description and limitation of the number of charterer personnel on board.
Vessels providing accommodation services may also perform ancillary functions that are important for the charterer's use of the vessel. Therefore, the Asvtime includes provisions regarding optional equipment that may be available on the vessel, including:
The operational requirements for such optional equipment must be specified, as well as the environmental limits within which it should be able to work. This equipment will generally not be available on a 24-hour basis, so the number of operational hours per day must also be specified. Since parallel operations of the optional equipment may require particular planning, organisation and use of the same specialised crew, the form must specify if and when the charterer may require such parallel operations.
The new form offers a traditional off-hire regulation for situations where the vessel is prevented from working, during which time the charterer's payment obligation is suspended. However, in cases of breakdown or unavailability of any of the optional equipment, the off-hire regulation may not be satisfactory. From the owner's perspective, the vessel is still providing the key vessel and accommodation functions and should therefore receive remuneration for the same. From the charterer's perspective, it may face issues due to the unavailability of the optional equipment, but may not be able to substantiate that the vessel is prevented from working or that there is a loss of time resulting in a corresponding off-hire period.
The Asvtime seeks to resolve this challenge by introducing a separate regime whereby the parties, when entering into the contract, can specify a percentage by which the hire may be reduced in case of unavailability of the optional equipment. However, the regime is not mandatory. It provides that the charterer may request the continued performance of the vessel without the optional equipment at the reduced rate. If the owner consents, the reduction of hire applies. If the consent is not forthcoming, the charterer must rely on the general off-hire regime to the extent applicable.
Vessels that provide accommodation services often remain at the area of operation for extended periods and do not make regular port calls in the way that other offshore service vessels do. Issues that arise in relation to such extended offshore operations are addressed in a separate clause separating responsibility for:
This provision is based on the special annex to Supplytime which BIMCO recently developed (for further details please see "Supplytime – new special task annexes published"). Given that the provisions in this annex are likely to be relevant for these types of vessel, it was decided that they should be included in the Asvtime as such.
The Asvtime also includes provisions for the use of an offshore bunkering system on the vessel for bunkering crew transfer vessels provided by the charterer, thereby seeking to provide a contractual framework for a practice which is common in the offshore wind industry.
The Asvtime includes several other key features, including those discussed below.
Delayed delivery is addressed in a similar way as under Windtime. In addition to the right to cancel the charter, the parties must specify if the charterer is:
Charter period extensions
A charter period extension to complete the immediate task undertaken is provided for in the form's contemplated scope of use.
Under a time charter, the charterer usually provides fuel. However, the Asvtime allows for fuel to be provided by the owner and reimbursed by the charterer to reflect a common practice in the offshore wind industry.
The maintenance allowance amounts to 24 hours per month on a cumulative basis. During such period, the vessel will remain on hire while performing:
However, compared with Supplytime, the reference to 'repair' has been removed in order to avoid use of the maintenance allowance for repairs of damages and not only preventive repairs. Further, surveys are included only to the extent that they are statutory or mandatory.
Liabilities and indemnities
The structure of liabilities and indemnities follows the typical structure of offshore contracts, with:
Similar to Windtime, a cap on the parties' contractual liability can be specified, but there is no default size of such cap (it was considered more appropriate for the parties to decide this on a case-by-case basis than for BIMCO to make a generic suggestion). The insurance obligations have been made mutual between the parties and the annex for insurances has also been updated to reflect industry practice for these types of vessel. It can be seen as a particularly positive development that yet another (of few) standard contracts for vessels in the offshore wind industry includes knock-for-knock as the applicable liability model.
Certain adjustments linked to the key accommodation service are also made in the infectious and contagious disease, war risk and ice clauses. The adjustments are made to reflect that the vessels will typically not carry any substantial cargo, but rather have many people on board.
Although the Supplytime is intended for offshore support vessels, in practice, it has also been used with bespoke adjustments for accommodation service vessels in the offshore oil and gas industry for decades. By developing a specialised form for these types of unit, BIMCO has provided yet another useful standardisation for the benefit of industry participants. Although the market for these types of unit is relatively small, the form will hopefully be of particular use for vessels in the offshore wind industry as it continues to develop. In addition, the form should also be a useful basis for accommodation and service vessels in other ocean industries.
For further information on this topic please contact Andreas Fjærvoll-Larsen or Øyvind Axe at Wikborg Rein by telephone (+47 22 82 75 00) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Wikborg Rein website can be accessed at www.wr.no.
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