SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

Gerry Ginter, General Average and Security

By Rik van Hemmen

This week we lost a client and a dear friend with the untimely passing of Gerry Ginter.

Gerry was an average adjuster and most recently a Senior Vice President at Marsh. Average adjusting is a unique and ancient profession. Quite possibly, it may be the oldest true profession (the other one is not really a profession; it is more a trade) since marine average adjusting is ancient with ancient concepts.

People may think of average adjusters as people who work in an office, but that is not really true and this brings me to my fondest memory of Gerry.

He and I were called out to a grounding in the US Virgin Islands. The ship was hard aground and the Owners declared General Average. It was a small container ship with containers that were off loaded onto a barge and then to shore.

We refloated the ship and she had significant damage and flooding and meanwhile the containers were kept secured in a compound.

I provided a picture of the damages, salvage cost and ship value, and Gerry suggested a cargo security that would be reasonable for the general average. Now it was Gerry’s job to contact each container cargo owner and to obtain security commensurate to the value of the salved cargo in each container.

That meant we had to open containers to make sure there was no cargo damage and figure out what the value in the containers was (that gets tricky because there is also a declared value). There was the regular collection of unusual container contents, for example some containers had secondhand cars, one contained cheap furniture and one was filled with chicken feed.

Gerry worked out that he would ask for 15% security on the value of the cargo. (I am not an average adjuster so I apologize for possibly using the wrong terms, but bear with me.) So he called the car owners and said: “I have good news and I have bad news; the good news is that your car is OK, the bad news is that the ship ran aground and under general average rules you need to post 15% of the value of the car for security towards general average costs.” You can imagine that causes confusion and Gerry ended up having to explain General Average time and time again, but mostly people were civil, and the people that were contacted knew they had to do some additional work or find some additional money to get their property.

We then got to the container with cheap furniture. It really was mostly the type of junk that I as a young family man have shipped around from job to job. It was obviously owned by a family that was moving to the US Virgin Islands from the US mainland, but oddly its declared value was something like $100,000 which was an outrageous amount for those days. So Gerry calls the number and says: “I have good news and I have bad news”, and tells the rest of the story. There is a pause and the person on the other side comes back and says: “So how much is that going to cost”. Gerry says, “Well I have paperwork here that values your property at $100,000 so the security would be $15,000.” A second later the volume on the phone goes up and Gerry angles the receiver towards me. The person on the other side, in the loudest terms possible, explained he was a US attorney and he was not going to pay any security to get his furniture and that Gerry was going to wish he never made that call.

See that smile on the picture? Yeah, Gerry was smiling. Because he knew ancient General Average will trump any laws that were cooked up in only the last few hundred years. So Gerry said: “Well Sir, at this stage you are aware of the situation and feel free to call me when you are ready to post security.” And hung up. The US attorney never called back; he must have checked with one of his buddies and realized he had just encountered some pretty cool law that was difficult to get around. His buddy called Gerry and they worked something out about the value declaration, security was posted and the US attorney got his furniture.

That was fun, but what really endeared me to Gerry is when he called the chicken feed owner. This gentleman told Gerry that the security would ruin him. He was a chicken farmer and had paid every penny he owned to get this chicken feed shipped to the Virgin Islands. He had no more money and if he did not get his feed soon, his chickens would die.

Gerry said: “Can you get like $100?” The chicken farmer said: “Why? You need $4,500!”

Gerry said: “You don’t need all the chicken feed in one shot and I don’t need all the money in one shot. You bring a truck and we’ll help you load 1/45 of the chicken feed to keep your chickens alive, we’ll work the rest out later”. Later on an even more interesting deal was worked out with the chicken farmer, but the bottom line is Gerry cared for people and he loved helping people when he could.

He will be missed in our industry, but not forgotten. Most of all, our thoughts go out to his family. We send our deepest wishes for peace and strength in these difficult days.

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