In Sucden Middle-East v Yagci Denizcilik Ve Ticaret Ltd Sirketi (The MV Muammer Yagci) EWHC 3873 (Comm) the Court heard an appeal from an arbitral decision on the following point of law. “where a cargo is seized by the local customs authorities at the discharge port causing a delay to discharge, is the time so lost caused by ‘government interferences’ within the meaning of clause 28 of the Sugar Charter Party 1999 form?”. The case arose out of a substantial period of delay in the vessel’s discharge at Algiers due to the seizure of cargo by the authorities there following the identification of a discrepancy between the cargo and the relevant documents presented by the receivers. The cargo was eventually sold after a four and a half month delay in discharging the cargo.
Robin Knowles J found that delay fell within the laytime and demurrage exception in cl.28 of the Sugar Charterparty 1999 form as being caused by ‘government interferences’. The question put to the court was solely concerned with a seizure of cargo by local customs authorities at the discharge port. The ordinary meaning of the word “interference” was apt to include an intervention in this specific form, that is, by way of seizure. This action on the part of local customs authorities was, in this context, the action of government through its appropriate arm or agency. Seizure of cargo by the customs authorities was not a thing that could be treated as routine. The seizure caused the delay even if the submission of the false documents caused the seizure. The arbitrators had found that the key point would be that all the steps taken were in fact ordinary but that was incorrect. Seizure, of cargo, which is a significant exercise of executive power, cannot be regarded as “ordinary”.