The Pacific Voyager  EWHC 2579 (Comm) concerns the shipowner’s obligations under a voyage charter in commencing the approach voyage to the port of loading. In the present case, the vessel struck a submerged object in the Suez Canal while engaged in the final leg of her previous charter. All her cargo was discharged there and the vessel had to be drydocked for repairs before performing any further laden voyages. The cancelling date was 2359 on 4 February 2015 and owners notified charterers that the vessel was shortly due to drydock where repairs would take “months”. Charterers cancelled on 6 February 2015 and claimed substantial damages.
In Monroe Brothers Limited v Ryan  2 KB 28 the Court of Appeal held that where the charter contains an expected readiness to load date (‘ertl’) the owner is under an absolute obligation to start the approach voyage by a date when it is reasonably certain that the vessel will arrive at the loading port on or around the expected readiness to load date. The exceptions in the charter will apply once the approach voyage starts but do not apply to the period before hand. The same applies where the charter provides an an estimated time of arrival (‘eta’) at the load port (The Myrtos  2 Lloyd’s Rep. 449).
The present case raised the novel issue of how the Monroe obligation operated in a charter which did not contain an ‘ertl’ or an ‘eta’ provision. Instead the charter contained a series of ETAs in respect of the anticipated timetable for completion of the voyage then being undertaken under the previous charter. Charterers argued that the cancelling date provided the date by reference to which there was an absolute obligation on the Owners to commence the approach voyage. Owners argued that the only relevant obligation on the Owners was an implied term that they would exercise due diligence to get the Vessel to the loading port by the cancelling date.
Popplewell J found that there was an absolute duty on the Owners to commence the approach voyage, at a particular point of time. That time is to be a reasonable time, to be identified in the light of the other charterparty terms. In this charter the relevant terms were to be found in the provisions regarding ETAs for the completion of the previous charter, which were equivalent to an ETA of arrival at the load port. The ETAs concluded with the vessel arriving at Antifer on 25 January 2015 for final discharge of her previous cargo. Owners were under an absolute obligation to commence the approach voyage at the end of a reasonable discharging period, were the vessel to arrive at Antifer on 25 January 2015. Had there been no ETAs for the vessel’s previous employment, there would have been an absolute obligation to commence the approach voyage by a date when it was reasonably certain that the Vessel would arrive at the loading port by the cancelling date.