No indemnity for loading of damaged goods when clean bill of lading issued.

 

 

There is no right to an indemnity to be implied into a voyage charter in relation to the accuracy of a statement in the draft bill presented to the master that the good are loaded clean on board, in the event that they turn out to be pre-damaged. The Tai Prize  [2020] EWHC 127 (Comm) involved a cargo claim under the bill of lading for which the shipowner received 50% contribution from the disponent owner who then sought to recover that sum from the voyage charterer under a charter which incorporated the Hague Rules.

The shipper presented a draft bill of lading to the shipowner at the loading port which described the cargo, under the heading “Shipper’s description of Goods”,  as being “63,366.150 metric tons Brazilian Soyabeans Clean on Board Freight pre-paid”. The bill of lading that was issued noted that the cargo was loaded in apparent good order and condition. On discharge charred cargo was found in two of the vessel’s holds and discharge was suspended. The remaining cargo was discharged without complaint and the cargo in the affected holds was discharged but the receiver maintained that the cargo in those holds had suffered heat and mould damage. The disponent owner commenced arbitrationto recover from the voyage charterer the contribution paid to the owner. The arbitrator found that the cargo had been loaded in a pre-damaged condition and the shipper as agent for the voyage charterer had impliedly warranted the accuracy of any statement as to condition contained in the bill of lading and had impliedly agreed to indemnify the defendant against the consequences of inaccuracy of the statement

HHJ Pelling QC found that

(1) By presenting the draft bill of lading for signature by or on behalf of the master, in relation to the statement concerning apparent good order and condition, the shipper was doing no more than inviting the master to make a representation of fact in accordance with his own assessment of the apparent condition of the cargo.

(2) The bill of lading was not inaccurate as a matter of law because the master did not and could not reasonably have discovered the relevant defects because they were not reasonably visible to him or any other agent of the claimant at or during shipment.

(3) No guarantee or warranty was to be implied into the voyage charter. It would be wrong in principle to imply into the contract a provision making the claimant liable to indemnify the defendant, when the drafters of the Hague Rules,which were incorporated into the voyage charter,  could have but decided not to provide expressly for such a provision in relation to statements by the shipper as to the apparent order and condition of the cargo. Under Art. III, Rule 5 a warranty is deemed to have been supplied by the shipper to the carrier in respect of the information “… furnished in writing by the shipper” pursuant to HR, Art. III, Rule 3, which relates to the “… leading marks necessary for identification of the goods …” and “… the number of packages or pieces or the quantity or weight …” However,  there is no such guarantee deemed to be given in respect of the apparent order and condition of the goods , This information in the bill is exclusively an assessment by the carrier.

The Judge concluded:

 

[35] The Arbitrator’s concern that the defendant would be left without recourse was misplaced because its liability did not and could not arise as a result of the wrongs of anyone on the charterer’s “… side of the line” because its liability to the Shipowner was the result of its decision to pay the Shipowner rather than defend the claim by reference to the true condition of the goods. There is nothing unfair, unjust, uncommercial or unconscionable about an outcome that leaves ultimate liability with the defendant because there was no misrepresentation, no evidence or finding that the Master had acted on the alleged misrepresentation rather than, or even as well as, attempting to and/or being unable reasonably to verify the condition of the goods before his agents signed the B/L and because it decided to pay the Shipowner.

 

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