In London Arbitration 19/21 the bunker clause in a trip time charter from the Far East to Egypt provided:
“8. BUNKER CLAUSE:
BOD about 830 metric ton IFO 380 CST about 78 metric ton LSMGO.
Prices both ends: USD425 PMT for IFO 380 and USD685 PMT for LSMGO.
BOR about same as BOD of IFO and BOR as onboard of LSMGO.”
The vessel was delivered with 888.56 mt of IFO on board and redelivered with 686.07 mt. The owners were prepared to allow a margin of 2 per cent for the term “about” but submitted that even on that basis the charterers had redelivered with a shortfall of 184.7188 mt of IFO. They said that the prevailing market price of IFO at the place of redelivery in Egypt was US$510 per mt, and claimed the difference between that price and the charterparty price of US$425 per mt on the shortfall, a total of US$15,701.10.
The Tribunal held that the word ‘about’ without further clarification imported a 5 percent margin for both delivery and redelivery. Owners argued that this was not the case on redelivery because the charterers had the opportunity of supplying further bunkers to make up the shortfall but deliberately decided not to do so. Although the Tribunal could see the attraction of the argument it rejected it as adding such a gloss to the usual understanding of the term ‘about’ would cause uncertainty and leave the parties in the dark as to the nature and extent of their obligations.
The Tribunal then held that the charter prices on redelivery only applied to legitimate quantities on delivery and redelivery and not to any quantities as submitted by the charterers. The appropriate comparison to be made was between the charterparty price and prevailing market price at the place of redelivery. Speculation as to where and at what price the owners might have taken on bunkers after redelivery had to be discounted as a matter of an independent commercial decision of the owners after redelivery.
The Tribunal rejected Charterer’s argument that they had requested the owners to load more bunkers at Singapore but were told that the vessel did not have sufficient tank capacity to load the quantity proposed by the charterers. The charterers had not then taken on additional bunkers in Egypt because the supply of bunkers there was unreliable both in terms of service and quality. There was no warranty as to the bunker capacity of the vessel and/or its ability to take on board any quantity of bunkers required by the charterers at any time at Singapore, or elsewhere, during the course of the trip.