New regulation makes waves: Coastguard establishes maximum speed for stretch of Parana River
A new Coastguard regulation has established the maximum speed between km 406 and km 435 of the Parana River.
This regulation is the result of pressure from local dinghy sailors and yacht owners which have allegedly suffered damages while moored in this spot. The reported damages were allegedly caused by the waves that vessels produce when sailing at high speeds.
The first case was reported in August 2019 when two vessels crossed each other at km 434. The outbound vessel was sailing at 12.4 knots while the inbound vessel was sailing at 12 knots, both over ground.
Until August 2019, the maximum speed was 11 knots according to Coastguard Regulation 16/2017. However, the regulation did not clarify whether this was over ground or through water. The new regulation (Regulation 66/2020) reduces the maximum speed to 9 knots, but still does not clarify whether this is over ground or through water. This is relevant because the speed of the Parana River current ranges from 2 knots to 2.5 knots from north to south throughout the year (the river has no tide regime); hence, a vessel’s speed over ground and through the water will differ when sailing outbound down river.
Surprisingly, there have been reported cases of vessels causing the same waves when travelling at speeds below 9 knots over ground. From a technical perspective, the waves might be the result of the extremely low level of the river and the water displacement which is exacerbated by the fact that km 434 is a popular spot for locals to moor their yachts during the summer.
If the Coastguard notices a vessel sailing above 9 knots over ground on the automatic identification system, the vessel will be subject to an administrative proceeding and will be detained unless security is posted to cover the potential fine. Further, cases have been reported where shipowners have paid the fine for excess of speed but the vessel was then subject to claims from yacht owners who used the administrative proceeding as evidence to prove that the master had recognised their excess of speed.
In a recent case, two vessels which had crossed each other at km 434 faced a claim from 15 yacht owners which claimed damages to their boats, as well as injuries.
A new regulation is expected to clarify permissible vessel speeds. In the meantime, it is recommended that owners follow pilot’s advice and keep their speed below 9 knots over ground between km 406 and km 435.
While detention by the Coastguard will not interrupt loading or discharging operations, a representative of the shipowner should immediately appear before the Coastguard office and offer security to avoid the vessel’s detention. In doing so, the vessel will not lose time and the shipowner can avoid the usual fines for unproductive hours that terminals up river normally charge, which range from $2,000 to $3,000 per hour.
Administrative proceedings will proceed as follows:
- The coastguard will serve the master once alongside or at anchorage and will proceed with the deposition of the master on board.
- The deposition will consist of a series of questions about the vessel’s manoeuvre and speed. An English/Spanish translator must be present.
- The master has the right to remain silent during the deposition. The master is not obliged to provide any information and the Coastguard must prove that the vessel was speeding by its own means.
- The Coastguard will request that someone domiciled in Argentina appear as a guarantor for the potential fine once the administrative proceeding ends. Any person can be a guarantor, but they must prove that they are solvent.
In practice, proceedings will take several months. Their length will depend on whether the owners decide to challenge them.