Subject stem. Normally, the “stem” of a vessel is the forward end of the hull.
The word can also refer to the vessel’s keeping sufficient speed just so as to counteract tidal flow. However, in the context of cargo operations and chartering, the word refers to the quantity and availability of cargo proposed to be loaded. The original reason for “stem” was related to the mines being able to supply cargoes of coal so that the ship could be loaded within the agreed laytime in the charterparty. The fixture became firm when the charterers were certain that the mines and shippers could supply the coal without delay beyond the laytime allowed.
In modern chartering, a charterer may fix the ship “subject stem”, supposedly indicating that the cargo quantity and available dates are still to be decided, but in fact this could be a deception while he is looking elsewhere for a cheaper ship. The unethical and unscrupulous charterer could fix several vessels simultaneously using “subject stem” and then approve the cheapest. Alternatively, they can fix the ship. “subject stem” but their own vessel is available, yet they are searching around for a good charter for their own vessel. If they do not obtain one their own vessel can then carry the cargo.
Because this restriction is used unethically in the shipping world, BIMCO recommends that certain principles and cautions, such as the owner’s imposing a time limit, should be followed:
“The restriction `subject stem’ can only apply to shippers’ and/or suppliers’ agreement to make a cargo available for specified dates, to the exclusion of any other meaning. In case of stem not granted as required, no other ship can be fixed by Charterers before the one initially fixed `subject stem’ has received the first refusal to accept the amended dates and/or quantity, provided they are reasonably near.”
Despite the unethical and unprofessional practices when this phrase is misused in chartering,, in the coal trades and in other trades where mined cargo is to be loaded, such as ore; the phrase , is generally correctly used in its original sense. Fixtures of vessels for full bulk cargoes, such as coal, are frequently reported “subject to stem”, which implies that the coal supplies and charterers have still to arrange delivery of the parcel of coal in the laydays agreed upon. As soon as a “stem” has been arranged, the date on which loading is to commence is called “stemdate”. Laydays also count from the “stemdate” on the understanding, of course, the vessel is actually ready to load and notice of readiness has been tendered and accepted.
If loading operations can be started immediately after arrival, the term “free stem” applies. When there is, a chance of misuse of the phrase, and also in a good market, the owners should impose a short time limit for the charterer to reply, perhaps within the same day or within a specified number of hours.