One breach, two losses. Does demurrage cover both?

Andrew Baker J today has said that it does not. In K Line PTE Ltd v Priminds Shipping (HK) Co, Ltd [2020] EWHC 2373 (Comm) the vessel was kept at the anchorage for some 31 days due to port congestion and lack of storage space ashore for the cargo. In consequence when the cargo of soyabeans was discharged it exhibited substantial mould and caking. This led to a cargo claim against owners who then settled and sought to recover from voyage charterers by way of damages for breach of their obligation to discharge within the laydays.

 Dicta of Sargant LJ in Reidar v Arcos [1927] KB 352, not the easiest of cases from which to extract a ratio, suggested that demurrage was the sole remedy for breach of that obligation, but that the case before him involved a breach of a separate obligation, a proposition applied by Potter J in The Bonde [1991] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 136). By contrast, Webster J in The Altus [1985] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 423 held that demurrage only had the effect of providing liquidated damages for a specific type of loss, the economic loss suffered by owners in the charterers exceeding the laydays for which they had paid in the freight. It did not cover other types of loss flowing from this breach. This was the view of Bankes LJ in Reidar. The contentious point was whether Atkin LJ had been with Sargant LJ or with Bankes LJ.

The academic writings were divided: Carver on Charterparties , Voyage Charters, and Shipping Law for the view of Sargant LJ; Scrutton contra for that of Bankes LJ; Schofield undecided; and Summerskill nowhere to be seen. After a long discussion as to whether precedent required him to follow The Bonde – it did not – Andrew Baker J held that damages could be claimed for the cargo claim resulting from the delayed discharge, notwithstanding the demurrage provision. He added that had he come to a different conclusion, there would have been no scope for implying an indemnity -owners’ second string to their bow.

One suspects this will come as an unpleasant surprise to charterers, but perhaps the bigger surprise is what owners were doing settling a claim which under the Hague Rules they would have had a good chance of resisting under Art IV (2)(q)  which provides an exemption as follows: “Any other cause arising without the actual fault or privity of the carrier, or without the fault or neglect of the agents or servants of the carrier, but the burden of proof shall be on the person claiming the benefit of this exception to show that neither the actual fault or privity of the carrier nor the fault or neglect of the agents or servants of the carrier contributed to the loss or damage.”  Deterioration of the cargo due to delay in discharge due to congestion would very likely constitute such a cause.

This looks like one for the Court of Appeal, and, maybe, the Supreme Court.

4 thoughts on “One breach, two losses. Does demurrage cover both?

    1. Paul David WC

      Interesting case – always thought that the demurrage regime should provide the remedy really on grounds of certainty. But isn’t this a matter of construing the contract in context and in the light of its purpose.

      1. Paul David QC

        QC! But I suppose it depends on what readers think of the comment!
        Great work in keeping up the flow of notes and comment.

  1. I find it somewhat odd that a liquidated damages clause to cover breach of the obligation to load/discharge within the laydays should apply only to certain consequences of the breach, but I can see how Andrew Baker J came to his decision. Summerskill is as much on the fence as Schofield on this. What did surprise me is how owners ended up incurring a liability under the bill of lading which I presume was on Hague Rules terms.

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