Naval architects and marine engineers sometimes develop contract plans and specifications for vessel owners. Typically, the shipyard then completes the design process to a point adequate for regulatory approvals and vessel construction using its own design staff once the agreement is signed. The owner’s naval architect continues to advise the owner and even review the contractor’s detail plans on behalf of the owner.
Sometimes, the yard wants to use the owner’s naval architect to finish the design in an attempt to achieve a more efficient design completion process . The yard promises the owner that it will work out smoothly. The owner’s naval architect, wanting to see the project develop as envisioned, agrees to also work for the yard.
Our advice: Don’t let the owner’s naval architect also work for the yard unless you are anxious to see litigation develop involving the owner, the yard and the naval architect.
When a naval architect tries to serve two masters on the same project – the owner and the yard – a contractual disaster awaits all the parties. The yard will say that extra work developed because the naval architect was assisting the owner. The owner will say that it wasn’t extra work, but was always required by the basic contract workscope. The naval architect won’t get a chance to say anything, because he doesn’t know which master to serve at that time. So the parties call in their attorneys. The smarter or quicker-acting party will also call in third-party expert consultants.
From the yard’s point of view, the savings gained by using the same naval architect for the detail design that prepared the contract design may be attractive. There are significant risks of extra costs creeping into the project because the naval architect – who is now supposedly working for the yard – inadvertently may be trying to perfect the project, not appreciating which party is supposed to pay the cost of achieving perfection. The inevitable confusion and the extra outlays by the yard could be avoided if the yard stuck with its plan of action to hire its own naval architects, not the owner’s.
The lesson learned is this: Avoid creating a basis for litigation. Owners and their naval architects should stick with their plan of action, that is, work together as a team until the project is completed. The idea of the naval architect also working for the yard may be couched in technical terminology and promises of design efficiency. But in reality, the naval architect is changing allegiances in the middle of what may be a skirmish. This is provocative action that both the yard and the owner may exploit if there is any hint of a dispute between them once the contract work is underway.