One obligation, one remedy. Now it’s Eternal Bliss for charterers.


In K Line PTE Ltd v Priminds Shipping (HK) Co, Ltd (The Eternal Bliss) [2020] EWHC 2373 (Comm) the vessel was kept at the anchorage at Longkou in China 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 the receivers bringing a cargo claim against owners which they then, reasonably, settled and then sought to recover from voyage charterers by way of damages for breach of their obligation to discharge within the laydays. Charterers responded by saying that demurrage was the exclusive remedy for this breach.

At first instance, [2020] EWHC 2373 (Comm), Andrew Baker J heard a preliminary point of law on assumed facts as to whether demurrage was the sole remedy for this breach of the obligation to discharge within the laydays. He found that it was not. It was the remedy only where what owners were claiming was detention loss. Other consequences of the breach, in this case the sum owners paid to settle the receivers’ claim, were recoverable as unliquidated damages. In doing so he declined to follow the only clear decision on this issue, that of Potter J in The Bonde [1991] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 136 who had held that demurrage is liquidated damages for all the consequences of the charterer’s failure to load or unload within the laytime. Andrew Baker J also found that if demurrage was liquidated damages for all the consequences of the charterer’s delay at the discharge port, an indemnity would not be implied rendering the charterer liable for one of those consequences. Charterers appealed the finding on the extent of the demurrage remedy. Owners did not challenge the indemnity finding on appeal.

The Court of Appeal, EWCA/Civ/2021/1712, for whom Males LJ delivered the judgment of the Court, has today reversed that decision and concluded that in the absence of any contrary indication in a particular charterparty, demurrage liquidates the whole of the damages arising from a charterer’s breach of charter in failing to complete cargo operations within the laytime and not merely some of them. Accordingly, if a shipowner seeks to recover damages in addition to demurrage arising from delay, it must prove a breach of a separate obligation. The Court noted that The Bonde was the only clear decision on this point and that both the academic texts and judicial dicta were divided.

The Court of Appeal gave the following six reasons for its decision.

 “First, while it is possible for contracting parties to agree that a liquidated damages clause should liquidate only some of the damages arising from a particular breach, that strikes us as an unusual and surprising agreement for commercial people to make which, if intended, ought to be clearly stated. Such an agreement forfeits many of the benefits of a liquidated damages clause which, in general, provides valuable certainty and avoids dispute.” [53]

”Secondly, we accept that statements can be found in the case law to the effect that demurrage is intended to compensate a shipowner for the loss of prospective freight earnings suffered as a result of the charterer’s delay in completing cargo operations… No doubt this is the loss which is primarily contemplated and, in most cases, will be the only loss occurring. But that does not mean that this is all that demurrage is intended to do. The statements cited were made in cases where the present issue was not being considered.” [54]

Thirdly, if demurrage quantifies “the owner’s loss of use of the ship to earn freight by further employment in respect of delay to the ship after the expiry of laytime, nothing more”, as the judge held at [61] and again at [88], and does not apply to a different “type of loss” (as he put it at [45]), there will inevitably be disputes as to whether particular losses are of the “type” or “kind” covered by the demurrage clause.”[55]

“Fourthly, as Lord Justice Newey pointed out in argument, the cost of insurance is one of the normal running expenses which the shipowner has to bear. A standard expense for a shipowner is the cost of P&I cover which is intended to protect it against precisely the loss suffered in this case, that is to say liability to cargo claims, whether justified or not. Thus a shipowner will typically have insurance against cargo claims, while a charterer will not typically have insurance against liability for unliquidated damages resulting solely from a failure to complete cargo operations within the laytime. Rather, the charterer has protected itself from liability for failing to complete cargo operations within the laytime by stipulating for liquidated damages in the form of demurrage. Accordingly the consequence of the shipowner’s construction is to transfer the risk of unliquidated liability for cargo claims from the shipowner who has insured against it to the charterer who has not. That seems to us to disturb the balance of risk inherent in the parties’ contract.”[56]

“Fifthly, The Bonde has now stood for some 30 years, apparently without causing any dissatisfaction in the market.” [57]

“Sixthly, that reason would have less force if we agreed with the judge (at [127]) that the reasoning in The Bonde “is clearly faulty” or that the judgment “is explicable only if a non sequitur lies at its heart”. With respect, however, we do not accept the judge’s criticisms of The Bonde.” [58]

The Court of Appeal then noted that allowing the appeal would produce clarity and certainty, while leaving it open to individual parties or to industry bodies to stipulate for a different result if they wished to do so.

It will be interesting to see if owners now try to draft clauses stating expressly that demurrage only covers certain stated categories of loss – and whether charterers accept that.

It will also be interesting to see whether the case eventually ends up before the Supreme Court.

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