“My wife may capture my heart”. Off hire and capture by pirates.

 

Owners time chartered the “Eleni P” on an amended NYPE 1946 form and during a voyage from Ukraine to China the vessel was routed via the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden. After transiting the Gulf of Aden without incident she was attacked and captured by pirates in the Arabian sea and released some seven months later.

Owners claimed US$ 4.5 million hire for this period. The Tribunal rejected the claim on the grounds that two additional typed clauses, clauses 49 and 101, excluded it. Owners appealed in respect of the correct construction of each pursuant to s69 of the Arbitration Act 1996. In Eleni Shipping Limited v Transgrain Shipping BV (“The ELENI P”) [2019] EWHC 910 (Comm) Popplewell J held that the appeal succeeded in respect of clause 49, but failed in respect of clause 101.

Clause 49 – Capture, Seizure and ArrestShould the vessel be captures [sic] or seized or detained or arrested by any authority or by any legal process during the currency of this Charter Party, the payment of hire shall be suspended for the actual time lost […]

Owners contended before Popplewell J that Clause 49 only applied when the Vessel was captured, seized, detained or arrested by any authority or any legal process – it therefore did not apply to capture by pirates. Charterers argued that only the word “arrested” was qualified by the phrase “by any authority or by any legal process” andnot  the word “captured” , and therefore as a matter of ordinary language, the Vessel had been captured.

Popplewell J held that the clause only applied to capture by an authority or legal process, and therefore not to capture by pirates. The words “any authority or any legal process” applied to the whole preceding list of events. To limit it to arrest would be superfluous. The tribunal had stated that ‘capture’ was not something that an ‘authority’ could be involved with. Not so, Popplewell J stating “capture does not necessarily connote the use of force. Unoccupied land or undefended goods may be captured. My wife may capture my heart. I see no difficulty as a matter of the ordinary use of language in the concept of a governmental authority or ruler capturing a vessel.”

Clause 101 – Piracy ClauseCharterers are allowed to transit Gulf of Aden any time, all extra war risk premium and/or kidnap and ransom as quoted by the vessel’s Underwriters, if any, will be reimbursed by Charterers. […] In case vessel should be threatened/kidnapped by reason of piracy, payment of hire shall be suspended. It’s remain understood [sic] that during transit of Gulf of Aden the vessel will follow all procedures as required for such transit including but not limited the instructions as received by the patrolling squad in the area for safe participating to the convoy west or east bound.

Did the suspension of hire only operate if the vessel were threatened or kidnapped by reason of piracy while transiting the Gulf of Aden, as owners argued, or did it operate wherever the Vessel was threatened in the Gulf of Aden or as an immediate consequence of her transiting or being about to transit the Gulf, a charterers argued? The Tribunal had accepted charterers’ argument and so did Popplewell J. The purpose of the Clause was to allocate the risks associated with such trade, not solely within a specifically defined geographical area. Its first sentence allocates the burden of an extra war risk premium and the sentence concerning hire suspension allocates the risk of delay from detention as a consequence of the transit which the first sentence requires.

Accordingly, owners were unable to claim hire for the seven months during which the vessel was held by the pirates.

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Professor Simon Baughen

Professor Simon Baughen was appointed as Professor of Shipping Law in September 2013 (previously Reader at the University of Bristol Law School). Simon Baughen studied law at Oxford and practised in maritime law for several years before joining academia. His research interests lie mainly in the field of shipping law, but also include the law of trusts and the environmental law implications of the activities of multinational corporations in the developing world. Simon's book on Shipping Law, has run to five editions and is already well-known to academics and students alike as by far the most learned and approachable work on the subject. Furthermore, he is now the author of the very well-established practitioner's work Summerskill on Laytime. He has an extensive list of publications to his name, including International Trade and the Protection of the Environment. He has also written and taught extensively on commercial law, trusts and environmental law. Simon will be a member of the Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law, a University Research Centre within the School of Law, and he will teach on both the LLM (Carriage of Goods by Sea, Land and Air and Oil and Gas Law) and LLB programmes at Swansea.

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