Meaning of ‘similar amendment’ in cl.8(b) of 1996 Inter-Club Agreement

Agile  Holdings Corporation v Essar Shipping Ltd [2018] EWHC 1055 (Comm) is a recent decision on the meaning of “similar amendment” in cl.8(b) of the 1996 Inter-Club Agreement (‘ICA’), in favour of the claimant shipowners, represented by IISTL’s Simon Rainey QC.

The “Maria” was time chartered for a single trip from Tunisia to India via Trinidad, carrying a consignment of direct reduced iron (“DRI”) which is  highly reactive and combustible in the presence of heat or water. During loading the cargo onto the vessel by means of a conveyor belt at Port Lisas, Trinidad, the belt was seen to have caught fire, but the appointed supercargo inspected the holds and advised that loading could continue. The cargo was still on fire during the voyage and cargo interests, an associated company of the charterers, brought a claim against the shipowners. In turn, they claimed a 100% indemnity from the charterers under the Inter-Club Agreement 1996 which was incorporated into the charter. The charter was on NYPE 1946 form, with an unamended cl.8, so under cl.8(b) of the ICA owners would be entitled to a 100% indemnity in respect of claims “in fact arising out of the loading, stowage, lashing, discharge, storage or other handling of cargo”.

The clause contains the proviso “ unless [1]  the words “and responsibility” are added in clause 8 [of the NYPE form]” to which the 1996 form added the words  “or there is a similar amendment making the Master responsible for cargo handling”, in which case a 50/50 split applies. Charterers pointed to cl.49 which provided “The Stevedores although appointed and paid by Charterers/Shippers/Receivers and or their Agents, to remain under the direction of the Master who will be responsible for proper stowage and seaworthiness and safety of the vessel…” and argued that this constituted a ‘similar amendment’. Charterers argued that  this would transfer back responsibility to the owners that aspect of cargo handling which was in fact in issue in the particular case. His Honour Judge Waksman QC rejected this, and held the required “similar amendment” must be one which would have the same effect as the addition of the words “any responsibility” and therefore, connotes the transfer of all aspects of cargo handling generally back to the Owner. He went on to observe that Clause 49 only transferred back responsibility for stowage, and probably only stowage affecting the seaworthiness or safety of the vessel. A transfer back of stowage only did not connote any transfer back of other cargo handling responsibilities.

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