Chipping away at the ‘narrow approach’ to the Court’s powers in aid of arbitration?

A and B v C, D and E [2020] EWCA Civ 409

Simon Rainey QC looks at the Court of Appeal’s decision:

The long-standing controversy as to whether orders made by the Court “for the purposes of and in relation to arbitral proceedings” under s. 44 of the Arbitration Act 1996 can be made against non-parties to the arbitration received at least a partial resolution on Thursday 19th March 2020, when the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in A and B v C, D and E [2020] EWCA Civ 409. 

The case concerned a New York arbitration in relation to a dispute over net balances due under settlement agreements. One issue which arose was whether certain payments to a central Asian government were properly deducted as ‘signature bonuses’ (as the Respondents contended) or were bribes and therefore to be left out of account (as the Appellants submitted). The persons said to be involved in the negotiations for the making of the payments included one E, an English resident. He refused to go to New York to give evidence. With the permission of the Tribunal, the Appellants sought to compel his testimony and applied to the English Court under s. 44(2)(a) for an order under CPR34.8 for the taking of E’s evidence by deposition. 

Accordingly, the application centred on the Court’s power as to “the taking of the evidence of witnesses”.

Foxton J. refused the application (with some reluctance) on the basis of accrued first instance Commercial Court authority, making it clear that his view would have been, absent authority, that the particular order sought was one the Court had jurisdiction to make under section 44: see [2020] EWHC 258 (Comm) at [18]. Recognising the controversy over the issue, he granted permission to appeal, notwithstanding the settled first instance view, a course of action which the Court of Appeal considered “obviously sensible”: [55].

On an expedited appeal, the Court of Appeal (Flaux, Newey and Males L.JJ  held), with little hesitation, that s.44(2)(a) did give the Court power to make an order for the taking of evidence by way of deposition from a non-party witness in aid of a foreign or domestic arbitration. But the Court declined to go any further than that or to express any concluded view on the position in relation to other s.44(2) powers. 

It follows that the controversy remains a very live one, pending review by the Supreme Court or the next piecemeal pronouncement by the Court of Appeal in another s.44(2) case involving a different sub-section (2) power.

The s.44 controversy and the previous Commercial Court decisions 

On one view, the controversy might be said to be an arid one. S. 44(1) applies to all English seated arbitrations, unless contracted out of. It provides that, absent such contrary agreement, “the court has for the purposes of and in relation to arbitral proceedings the same power of making orders about the matters listed below as it has for the purposes of and in relation to legal proceedings”. A straightforward approach might be to conclude that the Court has the same power to make orders against non-parties to an arbitration as it would have in legal proceedings to make orders against non-parties to the litigation because that is what s.44(1) says (see [7] and Foxton J. at [18]). If the parties do not like it, they can opt of the section, in whole or in part.

That approach runs up against the concern that the powers in s.44(2) are solely in aid of a consensual process of arbitration which binds only those who are party to the relevant arbitration agreement. It is argued that it would be odd if the Court were placed in a stronger position than the underlying tribunal itself and were able to exercise jurisdiction and powers over third parties, in support of an arbitration, where the arbitrators themselves would have no such jurisdiction or power. This concern has proved to be the dominant theme in the Commercial Court decisions prior to A&B.

The leading analysis remains that of Males J. (as he then was) in Cruz City 1 Mauritius Holdings v Unitech Ltd [2014] EWHC 3704 (Comm).

That case concerned the Court’s jurisdiction under s.44(2)(e) as to “the granting of an interim injunction or the appointment of a receiver”. The case turned on the application of CPR 62.5(1)(c). However, after a careful examination of the textual indications in other parts of s.44. Males J. concluded obiter at [47] that “the better view is that section 44 does not include any power to grant an injunction against a non-party” to the arbitration. While limited to the grant of an injunction under section 44(2)(e), the Judge’s reasoning was generally expressed (as he acknowledged in A&B: [52]) and was equally applicable to all the different paragraphs of section 44(2), without distinguishing between them. The thrust of his reasoning was that the wording of e.g. ss.44(4) and 44(5) made it unlikely that Parliament had intended to give the English court jurisdiction to make orders against non-parties in support of arbitrations happening anywhere in the world and that “the section is simply not concerned with applications against non-parties” [48(e)].

In the subsequent decision of DTEK Trading SA v Morisov [2017] EWHC 1704 (Comm), the Court had to consider whether it had jurisdiction under section 44(2)(b) to make an order for the preservation and inspection of a document in the possession of a third party in Ukraine. Sara Cockerill QC (as she then was) rejected various commentators’ criticisms of Males J’s approach (i.e. Merkin & Flannery, Arbitration Act 1996, 5th Edn; see now 6th Edn at 44.7.5) and reached the same analysis as Males LJ, taking a general approach (note that the application was unopposed). Thereafter later decisions applied the position as if settled at first instance (see e.g. Foxton J. and before him, Trans-Oil International v Savoy Trading [2020] EWHC 57 (Comm), Moulder J.).

The “wide” and the “narrow” questions in play on the appeal

So lay the land on the appeal. 

The Appellant’s primary case was that the appeal had to be determined first and foremost on the “narrow question” of whether the particular s.44(2) power was one which was exercisable against third parties. 

This was accepted by the Court, basing itself on the wide words of s.44(2)(a) with its reference to “witnesses”, not to “parties”, in circumstances where given the wide range of potential witnesses who would not be expected to be only “party” witnesses, “there is no justification in the wording of the statute for limiting “witnesses” to those who are in the control of one or other of the parties. If Parliament had intended that limitation, it would have said so” (Flaux LJ at [37]; see also Males LJ at [59]). Further, the nature of the “legal proceedings” referred to in s.44(1), being High Court and County Court proceedings, connoted the power which those Courts had to take evidence on deposition wherever necessary and just to do so: (; [38]; [61]).

The Appellant nevertheless also mounted an attack on the wider front that the s.44 controversy was not to be resolved by looking at the consensual nature of arbitration and that the starting point for section 44 is not the consensual nature of the arbitration agreement but what powers the Court is to have in a defined situation. 

The Court of Appeal avoided getting into the debate as to whether Cruz City and DTEK were correctly decided. Given that the position was clear for s.44(2)(a), it was not considered necessary to go any further on different s.44 powers.

The end of the wide Cruz City view?

While the Court of Appeal refrained from tackling the correctness of the Cruz City wide approach, it is difficult to see how that approach can survive its decision. Either s.44 as a section is dealing with powers against parties only (as Males LJ opined in Cruz City) or it is not. 

If it is not (as has now been held), then there are only two possible positions: either (a) the wide view that all of the s.44(2) powers are exercisable generally against non-parties is correct or (b) each separate power will turn on its own terms, so that different results may apply; indeed, it may be that only the s.44(2)(a) ‘evidence / witness’ power is a non-party power, while the remainder of s. 44(2) are powers are exercisable against arbitral parties only.

In so far as it is possible to identify the Court of Appeal’s view, this was in favour of the latter, ‘power by power’, approach.

Flaux LJ recognised that the effect of the decision and of the Court’s “narrow approach” was to posit that s.44 (2)(a) applies to non-parties, whereas the other heads of the subsection may not do so, based on the previous decisions. He left the position open by stating that “Any apparent inconsistency between the various heads of subsection (2) may be explained by the different language of those heads.” [44].

Males LJ, who had adopted obiter the wider view in his decision in Cruz City was careful to confine Cruz City to the particular power then before him. Like Flaux LJ he contemplated the possibility that different powers in s.44(2) might lead to different results. In particular, he made it clear that he saw “no reason to doubt” what he carefully referred to as “the actual decisions in in Cruz City and DTEK”(emphasis added)  and only went on (at [56]) to “reserve my opinion whether their reasoning on this point is correct as regards the other paragraphs of section 44(2). […] it may be that the position varies as between the various paragraphs of subsection (2).” He however recognised that there were “strong arguments” either way.

So where are we now?

While the Court’s decision on s.44(2(a) make the position clear for that s.44 power, the s.44(2)(b) and (e) powers remain for the present governed by the Cruz City / DTEK decisions, although arguably open to fresh challenge on the basis that the Court of Appeal chose not to endorse the decisions as such. The position for other s.44(2) powers, not yet dealt with by any current Commercial Court or other decision is fully up for grabs. It is perhaps regrettable that the opportunity for at least a much clearer obiter ‘steer’ was not grasped by the Court of Appeal, although if the Court favoured a ‘power by power’ approach (as it appears implicitly to have done) then as it heard no argument on each power, this may not be surprising. No permission to appeal was sought to take the matter further to the Supreme Court, so the s.44 controversy is unfortunately set to rumble on for a little longer yet.

THE FIRST ADMIRALTY CASE HEARD REMOTELY OWING TO COVID19 PANDEMIC

On 29 January 2020, the Admiralty Court made an order at the request of the claimant in Qatar National Bank QPSC v Owners of the Yacht Force India [2020] EWHC 103 (Admlty) that the yacht Force India be sold. The circumstances in which the order for the sale was granted were described in a previous post on this blog. See https://iistl.blog/2020/03/09/no-judgment-in-default-of-a-defence-in-in-rem-proceedings-against-an-arrested-ship-unless-the-court-is-satisfied-that-the-claim-has-been-proved/.

After twenty bids had been received by the Admiralty Marshal during the sale process, Qatar National Bank QPSC applied to the Court for an order to set aside the order for the sale. While the Admiralty Court declined to grant such order, it suspended the sale to enable a proper hearing to take place on notice to the interested parties. 

On 20 March 2020, the hearing took place by telephone as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, making Qatar National Bank QPSC v Owners of the Yacht Force India [2020] EWHC 719 (Admlty) the first case to be heard by the Admiralty Court remotely.

The Court decided to set aside the order for sale in the present case. That is because an independent third party paid the sums secured by the mortgage. As a result, the judicial sale of the yacht Force India was rendered unnecessary.

It may be worth noting here that the case at hand is exceptional in that the mortgage had been granted as additional security for a €27 million loan to finance the acquisition of a company which owned a property on an island off the coast of France. Thus, when the loan secured by the charge on the property was paid to Qatar National Bank QPSC, the smaller sum secured by the mortgage on the yacht was also discharged.

Indeed, the Admiralty Court emphasised the need for orders setting aside judicial sales of vessels to remain the exception rather than the norm, with a view to protecting its reputation and its ability in future cases to achieve a vessel’s market value when an order for sale is made.

EU to get tough on GHG emissions from shipping?

 

In October 2014, the EU set domestic GHGs reduction target of at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Shipping is currently outside those targets with climate change regulation for international shipping being parked in the slow lane in the International Maritime Organization. That may be about to change over the next two years.

 

  1. COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS The European Green Deal Brussels, 11.12.2019 COM(2019) 640 final

 

The Commission indicated that it would be looking at measures extending the emissions trading system (ETS) to shipping and would look closely at the current tax exemptions including for aviation and maritime fuels and at how best to close any loopholes will take action in relation to maritime transport, including to regulate access of the most polluting ships to EU ports and to oblige docked ships to use shore-side electricity.

 

  1. On 4 March 2020 the Commission proposed a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (European Climate Law) under which, by September 2020, the Commission would review the Union’s 2030 target for climate referred to in Article 2(11) of Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 in light of the climate-neutrality objective set out in Article 2(1), and explore options for a new 2030 target of 50 to 55% emission reductions compared to 1990.

 

  1. On 24 January 2020 Green MEP, Jutta Paulus, as Rapporteur for the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety produced a draft report (COM(2019)0038 – C8-0034/2019 -2019/0017(COD)) on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2015/757 in order to take appropriate account of the global data collection system for ship fuel oil consumption data. The report recommends the following amendments to the 2015 MRV Regulation ((Regulation (EU) 2015/757 on the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport, and amending Directive 2009/16/EC)):

– the inclusion of maritime transport in the ETS;

– the establishment of a maritime transport decarbonisation fund to foster research and development in the energy efficiency of ships and support investments in innovative technologies and infrastructure to decarbonise maritime transport, including short sea shipping and ports, and the deployment of sustainable fuels. The fund would be established for the period from 2021 to 2030 and would be financed from revenues of the ETS;

– Establishing a target of reduction of CO2 emissions per transport work by at least 40 % by 2030 over the first reporting year of the MRV, 2018;

– The extension of the scope of the amended regulation to all GHG emissions, especially methane, from ships of 5000 grt or above. The amended regulation would cover GHG emissions released during voyages of such ships from their last port of call to a port of call under the jurisdiction of a Member State and from a port of call under the jurisdiction of a Member State to their next port of call, as well as within ports of call under the jurisdiction of a Member State;

– The Commission to set targets for member states for deployment of shore side electricity.

 

These proposed changes to EU law may make last year’s anxiety over the IMO’s Sulphur Cap come to seem like very small beer indeed.

Another cautionary time bar tale for owners. Do copies of bills of lading need to be submitted to support demurrage claims?

 

This was the question before Robin Knowles J in Tricon Energy Ltd v MTM Trading LLC [2020] EWHC 700 (Comm).  The MTM Hong Kong was voyage chartered on an amended Asbatankvoy form for a voyage from Antwerp to Houston. The most relevant provisions of the Charterparty were as follows:

By clause 10:

“Laytime/Demurrage

… …

(e) If load or discharge is done simultaneously with other parcels then laytime to be applied prorate between the parcels.

(g) In the event of Vessel being delayed in berthing and the Vessel has to load and / or discharge at the port(s) for the account of others, then such delay and/or waiting time and /or demurrage, if incurred, to be prorated according to the Bill of Lading quantities”.

 

By clause 12:

“Statement of Facts

Statement of facts must be signed by supplier or receiver, respectively. If they refuse to sign, the Master must issue a contemporaneous protest to them. Owner shall instruct each port agent to release port information to Charterer on request and to forward to Charterer the statement of facts and N.O.R. as soon as possible after Vessel has completed loading or discharge there”.

 

By clause 38:

“Time Bar Clause

Charterer shall be discharged and released from all liability in respect of any claim/invoice the Owner may have/send to Charterer under this Charter Party unless a claim/invoice in writing and all supporting documents have been received by Charterer within 90 days after completion of discharge of the cargo covered by this Charter Party or after other termination of the voyage, whichever occurs first. Any claim/invoice which Owner may have under this Charter Party shall be waived and absolutely barred, if claim/invoice and all supporting documents are not received by Charterer before the time bar”.

 

The owners made their claim and submitted supporting documentation within 90 days of completion of discharge, but did not include copies of the bills of lading.

 

The statement of facts provided did not accurately record the bill of lading quantities, at least insofar as the bill of lading for the Charterers’ parcel was concerned.

 

Permission to appeal was granted on the following question of law. “Where a charterparty requires demurrage to be calculated by reference to bill of lading quantities, and contains a demurrage time bar which requires provision of all supporting documents, will a claim for demurrage be time-barred if the vessel owner fails to provide copies of the bills of lading?”

 

The tribunal had found that copies of the bills of lading did not need to be submitted, and provision of the statement of facts was sufficient.

 

Robin Knowles J, however, found that copies of the bills of lading did need to be submitted. The Charterparty in the present case contains an express reference to “Bill of Lading quantities” in clause 10(g) in which it is made clear that “pro rating” means a division according to bill of lading quantities. Furthermore the Charterparty in the present case referred not simply to “supporting documentation” but “all” such documentation.

 

There was no evidence that the bills were unavailable to the Owners and if there were sensitive elements to the bill of lading, those could very easily be redacted and the redaction would not realistically include the quantities. If a bill of lading was not available then a proper explanation of that fact would need to be provided for the purposes of clause 38 alongside what was available.

 

Failure to submit the third-party bill barred the claim in its entirety of her claim and not just that part of the claim attributable to delays in berthing. However, the clause here referred to a claim/invoice as a single item and did not (in contrast to the clause in The Adventure) refer to “constituent part[s]” of a claim for demurrage.

Switch bills. Initial shipper off the hook for freight due under bill of lading.

 

The effect of switch bills with a new shipper in the second set has the effect of a novation of the initial contract contained or evidenced in the initial bill with the shipowner as carrier under the bill. So held Stevenson J in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in The Illawarra Fortune [2020] NSWSC 183. Both sets incorporated the freight payable under a voyage charterparty with the time charterer of the vessel. The initial shipper, whose parent company was the voyage charterer, ceased to be liable for unpaid freight once the second bills were issued naming a different shipper. Had the original bills not been switched the time charterer, as assignee of the shipowner’s rights under the bills of lading,  would have been able to sue the original shipper for freight due under the voyage charter with the shipper’s parent company.

A new climate change tort in New Zealand?

The month of March brings a second exotic possible tort claim to the table in the common law world. Following the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision in Nevsun v Arraya not to strike out a claim against a company for violating customary international law, we now have a novel tort raising its head in the Southern hemisphere.

Smith v Fontera Co-Operative Group Ltd and Ors  [2020] NZHC 419 saw the recognition of a possible new tort in connection with causing harm through emission of greenhouse gases. A claim was brought against various defendants who are either involved in an industry which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or who supply products which release greenhouse gases when they are burned. The plaintiff was  Mr Smith who claims customary interests in lands and other resources situated in or around Mahinepua in Northland. The statement of claim raised three causes of action, all in tort – public nuisance, negligence, and breach of an inchoate duty. Mr Smith did not claim damages but declarations that each of the defendants had unlawfully caused or contributed to the public nuisance alleged or breached duties said to be owed to him. He also sought injunctions requiring each defendant to produce, or cause, zero net emissions from its activities by 2030.

The defendants applied to strike out the claims on the grounds that the pleadings disclosed no reasonably arguable cause of action.

Wylie J struck out the public nuisance claim. The damage claimed was indirect and consequential. The interference with the rights of the public pleaded by Mr Smith was interference with public health, safety, comfort, convenience and peace. If the pleading could be made out, the defendants’ interference with those rights had no direct connection with the pleaded damage to Mr Smith’s interests in the land in question. Furthermore there was no unlawful conduct in the activities of any of the defendants.

The negligence claim went the same way. The damage claimed by Mr Smith could not be said to be a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ acts or omissions. The defendants’ collective emissions were miniscule in the context of the global greenhouse gas emissions which are causing climate change and it is the global greenhouse gas emissions which are pleaded as being likely to cause damage to Mr Smith. Causation was also a problem. The proportion of the damage pleaded that is caused by climate change effects contributed to by each defendant, or even the extent to which anthropogenic interference with the climate system has caused, or will cause, the damage pleaded was impossible to measure.

Proximity was a further problem as there was no relationship between the parties from which it could be established. The claim opened up the spectre of indeterminate liability for the defendants. The claimed duty would be owed anybody who can claim damage as a result of the widespread effects of climate change. Everyone is a polluter, and therefore a tortfeasor, and everyone is a victim (and therefore a possible plaintiff).

However, Wylie J was reluctant to conclude that the recognition of a new tortious duty which makes corporates responsible to the public for their emissions, was untenable, noting “it may be that a novel claim such as that filed by Mr Smith could result in the further evolution of the law of tort. It may, for example, be that the special damage rule in public nuisance could be modified; it may be that climate change science will lead to an increased ability to model the possible effects of emissions. These are issues which can only properly be explored at trial. I am not prepared to strike out the third cause of action and foreclose on the possibility of the law of tort recognising a new duty which might assist Mr Smith.”

Wylie J concluded by noting a problem with the remedy sought, that of injunction which would be extraordinarily difficult and would require continued judicial supervision up to 2030, and maybe beyond.

 

.

 

Of ships and sea ROVers.

For most Admiralty lawyers most of the time, the question “what is a ship?” does not feature large on the radar. In the vast majority of cases there is no difficulty; the detailed working out of the question thus tends to be something left to law professors with time on their hands. Not always, however. An important recent battleground is ROVs. Although almost invariably controlled from ships, these can be pretty valuable pieces of kit in their own right, such that a right to arrest them and thus obtain security over them becomes worth having for a maritime claimant.

Yesterday the Australian Federal Court faced the issue in Guardian Offshore v Saab Seaeye 1702 [2020] FCA 273. The definition of a “ship” in the Admiralty Act 1988 (Cth) is very similar to that in s.313 of our own Merchant Shipping Act 1995: namely, a vessel of any kind used or constructed for use in navigation by water (though a few specifics are expressly incorporated). Colvin J had to deal with a purported arrest in Western Australia of a Saab Leopard, an electric underwater survey contraption looking a bit like an overgrown air-conditioning unit which could be made buoyant but only by the inflation through an umbilical cord of flotation bags attached to it.

His Honour, having gone through the English and Australian authorities going back to The Gas Float Whitton [1897] AC 337, decided it was not used for navigation and hence not a ship. It was very small, lived a lot of time on the sea bed, had very little power of directed motion, and had little in common with any other kind of vehicle used in navigation. He therefore vacated the arrest.

One suspects strongly that the result would be similar in England. But note three things.

  1. This case does not hold that a ROV is not a ship: merely that this ROV isn’t. A miniature submarine with substantial power of directional travel and natural neutral buoyancy we suspect would be likely to be potentially classed as a vessel used in navigation, and hence liable to arrest. There’s nothing odd in saying some ROVs are and some are not ships, just as (probably) some jetskis are and some aren’t: compare Steedman v Scofield [1992] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 163 (simple jet-ski not a vessel with R v Goodwin [2005] EWCA Crim 3184; [2006] 1 W.L.R. 546 at [17] (more substantial jetski might be a vessel).
  2. An interesting issue remains unexplored. If the mother ship had been arrested, would a ROV operable only from and in connection with that vessel be regarded as part and parcel of it? (Compare Morlines Maritime Agency Ltd v The Skulptor Vuchetich [1996] FCA 41; (1996) 136 A.L.R. 206). What if one person arrests the ship and someone else the ROV?
  3. A ROV can be not only a ship but something supplied to a ship under s.20(2) of the SCA 1981: The Sarah [2010] CSOH 161, [2011] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 546. This looks odd, but seems logically possible: compare the case of, say, a motor lifeboat.

One thing seems certain. We haven’t heard the last of this.

When does time start to run for an indemnity claim?

 

 

In London Arbitration 1/20 owners claimed an indemnity from voyage charterers in respect of payment of funds by their P&I Club to satisfy a judgment on a cargo claim brought against them in Brazil. The owners’ claim was brought under an express indemnity provision in the charterparty, clause 10, which read:

“Bills of Lading shall be presented and signed by the Master as per the ‘Congenbill’ Bill of Lading form, Edition 1994, without prejudice to this Charter Party, or by the Owners’ agents provided written authority has been given by Owners to the agents, a copy of which is to be furnished to the Charterers. The Charterers shall indemnify the Owners against all consequences or liabilities that may arise from the signing of bills of lading as presented to the extent that the terms or contents of such bills of lading impose or result in the imposition of more onerous liabilities upon the Owners than those assumed by the Owners under this Charter Party.”

The relevant time line was that discharge took place in 2006, with a first instance decision in the Brazilian courts in August 2010 which held owners liable. In September 2017 this was upheld on appeal and in October 2017 funds were remitted to cargo interests to satisfy the judgment. Owners commenced arbitration proceedings against charterers in August 2018.

There were various competing dates for starting the firing gun for the running of the six years under the Limitation Act 1980. If time started when the claim arose, or after the first instance judgment, then owners’ arbitration would be clearly barred. However, if the relevant time were that of the appeal decision or the payment of the judgment soon after, then owners would be in time.

The tribunal, by a majority, declined to follow the decision of McNair J in Bosma v Larsen [1966] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 22 in which McNairJ held that the cause of action under clause 9 of the Baltime form arose at the date when the facts came into existence which created a liability of the owners to the cargo owners or their insurers. That date was the date when the cargo was discharged damaged. The case had not been overruled but had not been followed on two subsequent occasions at first instance, in particular in The Caroline P [1984] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 466, where Neill J said:

“I have therefore come to the conclusion, though not without hesitation, that the … indemnity … did not become enforceable by action until at the earliest the liability of the owners to the receivers had been ascertained by the court of first instance …”

In the majority’s view, Neill J was saying that he preferred to run time from the date of the court adjudication at the earliest rather than from the time of discharge. In their view time started running when owners paid the judgment in favour of cargo interests sometime between 27 September and 6 October 2017.

NO JUDGMENT IN DEFAULT OF A DEFENCE IN IN REM PROCEEDINGS AGAINST AN ARRESTED SHIP UNLESS THE COURT IS SATISFIED THAT THE CLAIM HAS BEEN PROVED

In Qatar National Bank QPSC v Owners of the Yacht Force India [2020] EWHC 103 (Admlty), the claim arose out of a mortgage granted by Qatar National Bank QPSC over the yacht Force India as additional security for a €27 million loan to finance the acquisition of a company which owned a property on an island off the coast of France. The mortgage was limited to a principal amount of €5 million. Due instalments were not paid and the claimant, Qatar National Bank QPSC, served a notice of default in June 2018.

Two months later, Qatar National Bank QPSC issued in rem proceedings and arrested the yacht Force India. The defendants, Force India Ltd, did not appear at the trial. It was, however, apparent from a letter from their former solicitors to the Court dated 14 January 2020 that Force India Ltd were aware of the trial. Against this backdrop, Qatar National Bank QPSC applied for an order to strike out the defence if Force India Ltd did not attend the trial. Mr Justice Teare granted this order pursuant to CPR Part 39.3 (1).

His Justice explained, however, that, in a case concerning in rem proceedings against an arrested ship, it is not appropriate to grant judgment in default of a defence pursuant to CPR Part 61.9(3)(a)(iii), unless the Court is satisfied that the claim has been proved. That is because other parties may have an action in rem against the arrested vessel. Thus, their interests might be damaged if judgment is given without the claim having been proved. Furthermore, the Practice Direction to CPR Part 39 provides that the claimant must prove his/her claim where the trial proceeds in the absence of the defendant.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Teare examined the documents which proved the claim and gave judgment for the sums claimed. These included €5 million for the value of the mortgage plus interests and the costs of collection. In addition, ancillary orders were given for the yacht to be appraised and sold.

Unseaworthy ship, or just a careless crew?

If you were mown down by a car, you would presumably think it a tad surreal if the driver got out, looked you over, and walked away, saying “I don’t have to pay you a penny. There was nothing wrong with my car. I merely drove it very badly.” Unless, of course, you were a lawyer dealing with carriage of goods by sea. In that case you would understand perfectly; after all, this merely reflects the distinction you will have imbibed with your mother’s milk between Article III r 1 and Article IV r 2(a) of the Hague-Visby Rules. The one says that anyone’s failure to show due diligence to make your vessel seaworthy makes you liable even when it’s not your fault; the other, that negligence in navigation excuses you from liability even where it was your fault.

Drawing the distinction between these has never been easy. The latest episode comes in the Court of Appeal’s decision today in The CGM Libra [2020] EWCA Civ 293. A sizeable container ship sailed from Xiamen in China (a pleasant subtropical spot which older readers may remember as Amoy) in the wee hours and grounded, rather expensively, a shortish distance outside. The reason she grounded was that when preparing the passage plan the owners had indolently failed to transcribe a Notice to Mariners indicating that outside the strict boundaries of the fairway the soundings on local charts were completely unreliable.

In a general average claim by owners against cargo, the issue arose: was this a matter of navigational fault (owners not liable and hence entitled to contribution) or unseaworthiness (owners liable and thus barred)? Teare J held for unseaworthiness. Owners appealed, on the basis that failing to make a note of possible shallows so as to avoid them was a clear navigational error. But the Court of Appeal was having none of it. Even if the failure to prepare an adequate passage plan was a navigational sin, there was no reason why it could not also amount to unseaworthiness in so far as it was due to someone’s negligence before the voyage began.

The holding itself is pretty unexceptionable. If lack of proper charts on board at the start of the voyage is unseaworthiness, it would be odd if the same did not apply to the absence of a proper passage plan, this having been regarded as more or less as essential for a dozen years or so at the time of the events in question.

On the other hand, cases like this do begin to raise the question: have we now reached the point that where there is any negligence before the voyage, there will be a case of unseaworthiness so as to leave the Article IV(2)(a) defence in effect a dead letter? Some incautious words suggest we might have. At [61] Flaux LJ was sceptical whether unseaworthiness had to stem from an attribute of the vessel at all, and Haddon-Cave LJ seems to have suggested that the distinction was simply temporal: negligence before departure is unseaworthiness, for owners’ account, and later negligence for cargo’s account.

But this would look odd, apart from being for obvious reasons unwelcome to P&I interests. Does it make sense to say that a vessel is unseaworthy even though we cannot say what it is about it that makes it unseaworthy? It seems doubtful. One strongly suspects that The CGM Libra will not be the last word, and that we may well see more litigation before too long aimed at clearing up the awkward distinction between bad ships and careless crews.