While claims from creditors around the world are pouring in, most recently the three OW Bunker companies in the US claiming USD 50 million, one of the 13 main banks behind the Danish bunker company, Dutch ING, is trying to secure its outstanding claims before the bankrupt estate is settled.
ShippingWatch has spoken to several international carriers which have been contacted by ING, with the bank demanding that fuel bills be paid immediately and directly to the bank, in a very aggressive manner, according to one chief executive from a European carrier.
When the bank is able to demand payment from carriers virtually before the bankrupt estate's trustees have even begun working, it is because of the highly unique rules that apply in the maritime industry, where fuel invoices are often forwarded immediately to a bank which handles the credit, but which will also ultimately have to collect the money.
Everyone looking to secure claims
The challenge of the OW Bunker bankruptcy stems from the fact that there are three layers of creditors who can assert their claims, and who - according to people familiar with the industry - are very actively asserting their rights at this time.
The first layer is the bankrupt estate itself, where trustees have now taken the first steps in the long-term job of settling the estate. Meanwhile, a plethora of suppliers and collaborators and port agent operators are trying to secure their claims.
OW Bunker often hired local partners around the world, where oil was purchased on credit and delivered to a ship, though OW Bunker did not get around to paying before the bankruptcy.
And finally, there are the bills and invoices forwarded to banks such as ING.
One of Denmark's most prominent maritime lawyers, Peter Schaumburg-Müller of Hafnia Law, explains to ShippingWatch that many carriers are currently receiving bills from all three creditor layers, and that they are all demanding payment for the bunker located in the ships, regardless of whether this concerns 20,000 tons or 1,000 tons.
Hafnia Law has received so many inquiries that he currently does not have a number on it. The inquiries come from Denmark and abroad, Russian ports, oil suppliers, carriers and collaborators from most parts of the world.
Pay the bill three times
"Right now the carriers risk paying the same bill three times. I'm telling my clients at this time not to pay, but instead to wait and see what happens. If this had been a Danish case, not an international one, the figure would be deposited in a bank until a decision had been reached. But many involved parties are not going to do this. In international disputes, one cannot a priori expect that a deposit will be respected," says Peter Schaumburg-Müller.
And the very fact that OW Bunker's customers include carriers from around the globe, and that their ships are either in transit or berthed in various ports all over the world, makes the case extremely complicated, according to the lawyer:
"In maritime law, the so-called sea mortgage concept applies, which means that you can arrest a ship in order to sort out disputes concerning claims. But the rules differ from country to country, as not all nations have adopted the joint international rules, and some are working with their own parallel rules," he explains, adding:
"All the individual creditors are trying to save their own claims. If a supplier can find the ship that the company supplied oil to, the supplier is not going to wait for the bankrupt estate to be settled before acting."