Rhine Shipping DMCC v Vitol SA  EWHC 1265 (Comm) involved a counterclaim by Vitol under a voyage charter with Rhine for breach of the charter by way of delay to the Vessel in proceeding to one of the load ports resulting from an arrest by third parties of the bunkers and stores on board at one of the loading ports, in Ghana. The vessel was on bareboat charter to Al-Iraquia who had time chartered it to Rhine with whom it was connected. Delay resulted from the detention of the vessel for some days as security which was alleged to have led to delays in loading the vessel at its next load port in Congo with the result that Vital had to pay an increased price of US$3,692,106.72 to the seller of the cargo loaded there. The arrest in Ghana did not concern the vessel in the voyage charter between Rhine and Vitol. It concerned claims by six vessel owners under other charters with Al-Iraquia. Vitol claimed under an indemnity clause in the charter and also for breach of warranty that at the date of the charter the vessel was free of encumbrances and legal issues that could affect the performance of the charter.
(1) The indemnity.
Clause 13 provided: “Third Party Arrest
In the event of arrest/detention or other sanction levied against the vessel through no fault of Charterer, Owner shall indemnify Charterer for any damages, penalties, costs and consequences and any time vessel is under arrest/detained and/or limited in her performance is fully for Owner’s account and/or such time shall not count as laytime or if on demurrage, as time on demurrage.”
Although the arrest was of the property on board, not of the Vessel, the vessel was detained as the inevitable consequence of the property on board being arrested, in the sense of being constrained or prevented from freely continuing on its voyage. Clause 13 imposed no additional requirement that the detention be “levied against” the vessel in any sense other than that the vessel was detained.
A further issue arose as to whether the indemnity was subject to the rules on remoteness of loss
that apply to a claim in damages. Given his finding in relation to the breach of warranty claims, that the losses claimed by Vitol were not too remote to be recoverable as damages for breach of contract, the amount recoverable here did not turn on this issue. However, Simon Birt KC set out his view that nothing in the terms of the indemnity to suggested that it intended to incorporate the rules on remoteness of damage for breach of contract. If, as a result of a detention, for example, the charterer had suffered a penalty, there would be no reason to conclude that fell outside the scope of the indemnity, even if unforeseeable. He emphasised that his conclusions were based on the terms of clause 13 and the facts and circumstances of this case and did suggest that an express indemnity in any contract will always be interpreted to include losses that would fall outside the remoteness rules for breach of contract, nor did they deal with anything in relation to the scope of the implied indemnity under a time charter.
(2). The breach of warranty.
Vitol could also claim their losses by way of a breach of a warranty in the charter that “at the time of and immediately prior to fixing the charter, the vessel, owners, managers and disponent owners are free of any encumbrances and legal issues that may affect vessel’s approvals or the performance of the charter. Al-Iraqia were held to fall within the warranty by virtue of their description as “managers” within the clause, and, had it been necessary to determine, whether they also fell within the clause as “owners” or “disponent owners” Simon Birt KC would have held that they did fall within that description. At the time of and immediately prior to fixing the charter, Al-Iraqia was not “free of any encumbrances and legal issues that may affect the Vessel’s approvals or the performance of the charter.” When the charter was agreed on 27 March 2020, London arbitration was already on foot in relation to vessels other than the one subsequently arrested in Ghana. The word ‘may’ imposed a low bar and the London arbitration was a legal issue affecting Al-Iraqia at the relevant and it was possible that issue could affect the performance of the Charter, and indeed did so.
The Congo bills of lading were dated 12 May 2020 and Vitol claimed a loss of on the basis that had there been no delay due to the arrest Congo bills of lading would have been dated 6 May 2020 and Vitol would have paid its seller a lower price for the cargo. Rhine put forward three arguments as to why it should not be liable. First, it put Vitol to proof that, even without the arrest in Ghana, the vessel would have loaded at the Congo port in sufficient time to obtain bills of lading dated 6 May 2020 for the cargo loaded there. Second, any loss Vitol had suffered had been reduced by Vitol’s hedging arrangement and so insofar as so reduced it was not recoverable from Rhine. Third, even if Vitol’s loss had not been so reduced in fact, the only loss that was recoverable as not too remote was loss that would still have been suffered if those hedging arrangements had so reduced the loss.
Simon Birt KC rejected all three arguments. First, had there been no delay due to the arrest in Ghana, there was certainly a real or substantial chance that Vitol’s Congo seller or the Congo terminal would have acted in such a way as to lead to the issue of a bill of lading dated 6 May. There would be no discount to be applied for any “chance” that the bills of lading might not have been dated 6 May. Second, the transactions by which the Swaps were rolled were not external transactions, but were internal to Vitol. The rolling of the internal Swaps by which the pricing risk on the Congo sale contract arising from the delay was transferred between Vitol portfolios, did not make good any loss to Vitol. Unlike an external hedge, one transaction would not have been entered into for the purpose of managing the specific pricing risk arising from an identified risk from an existing transaction. Third, the loss claimed by Vitol was of a type that was usual in respect of a charter such as this, and was reasonably within the contemplation of the parties at the time of contracting. there was no evidence to the effect that there was a “general expectation” in the market that shipowners would not expect to bear this type of loss, such as had been the case in The Achilleas 1 AC 61 (HL).