Marine Cargo Policies Do Not Normally Provide Cover for Economical Losses

Engelhart CTP (US) LLC v. Lloyd’s Syndicate 1221 for the 2014 year of account [2018] EWHC 900 (Comm)

Having purchased 1,967.898 metric tonnes of cooper ingots, said to be shipped in 102 containers from New York, the buyer (assured) obtained “Marine Cargo and Storage Insurance Policy” from various insurers at Lloyd’s. The insurance policy, inter alia, stated:

“… noted and agreed that unless otherwise declared the contrary, the broadest coverage shall apply.”

“Container Clause

It is agreed that this Insurance contract is also to pay for shortage of contents (meaning thereby the difference between the number of packages as per shippers and/or suppliers invoice and/or packing list loaded or alleged to have been laden in the container and/or trailer and/or vehicle load and the count of packages removed therefrom by the Assured and / or their agent at time of container emptying) notwithstanding that seals may appear intact, and/or any other loss and/or damage including but not limited to cargo and/or container sweat howsoever arising.”

 

“Fraudulent Documents

This insurance contract covers physical loss of or damage to goods and/or merchandise insured hereunder through the acceptance by the Assured and/or Shippers of fraudulent documents of title, including but not limited to Bill(s) of Lading and/or Shipping Receipt(s) and/or Messenger Receipt(s) and/or shipping documents and/or Warehouse Receipts and/or other document(s) of title.

This insurance contract is also to cover physical loss of or damage to goods insured caused by utilisation of legitimate Bill(s) of lading and/or other documents of title without the authorisation and/or consent of the Assured or their Agents and/or Shippers.”

On arrival at Hong Kong for transhipment, it was discovered that no cooper ingots were, in fact, shipped in the containers. Indeed, no such cargo existed and the containers only contained slag of nominal commercial value.

The assured’s claim for indemnity was turned down on various grounds but it was specifically stipulated by Sir Ross Cranston, sitting as a judge of the High Court, that all risk marine cargo insurance was generally construed as covering only losses following from physical loss or damage to goods and this policy as a whole did not displace the presumption against cover for pure economic loss.

The trial judge  dismissed the assured’s contention that the alleged loss fell under the container clause stressing that the term “shortage” in the clause should be given its ordinary meaning and could not cover a situation where there was no goods in the first place. He also emphasised that the “fraudulent documents” clause expressly and exclusively responded to “physical loss of or damage to” goods through the acceptance of dishonest documents so this clause rather than displacing the presumption against cover for pure economic loss in cargo policies endorsed it in the sense that it did expressly indicate that no cover was available for physical losses.

2 points emerge from the judgment:

  1. Considered from the perspective of the construction of contracts, the decision is not at all surprising. It is in line with the spirit of several high profile judgments of the Supreme Court, such as Rainy Sky SA Kookmin Bank [2011] UKSC 50; Arnold v. Britton [2015] UKSC 36 and Impact Funding Solutions Ltd v. Barrington Support Services Ltd [2016] UKSC 57, which emphasise that construing a written document is “first and foremost” a textual exercise. On that premise, a clear and express wording is required to extend the cover of a marine cargo policy to losses which are economic in nature. General statements in the policy purporting to describe the nature of coverage provided in broad terms are not on their own capable of extending the nature of cover beyond physical loss or damage to goods.
  2. It is somehow surprising that the insurers did not develop an alternative defence to the claim by arguing that the policy in this case was void (or did not attach) as the subject matter of insurance has never existed in the first place (see AF Watkinson & Co. Ltd. v. Hullett (1938) 61 L1L Rep 145) In fact, it was argued forcefully in Marine Insurance Fraud, (2014, Informa Law) at 2-117-2-118) that where insurance is obtained for an imaginary cargo, the non-disclosure and misrepresentation is of such magnitude that there is no cover at all.             

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