Sanctions, force majeure. No obligation to accept payment in alternative currency.

MUR Shipping BV v RTI Ltd [2022] EWHC 467 (Comm) raises the question of whether the effect of financial sanctions obliges a contractual party to accept payment in a currency other than that specified in the contract. Mur Shipping BV (“the Owners” or “MUR”) concluded a Contract of Affreightment (“COA”) with RTI Ltd (“the Charterers” or “RTI”) in June 2016. Under the COA, the Charterers contracted to ship, and the Owners contracted to carry, approximately 280,000 metric tons per month of bauxite, in consignments of 30,000 – 40,000 metric tons, from Conakry in Guinea to Dneprobugsky in Ukraine. On 6 April 2018, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) applied sanctions (“the sanctions”) to RTI’s parent company, adding them to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. This led to the Owners invoking a force majeure clause in the COA by sending a force majeure notice (“FM Notice”) on 10 April 2018 in which the Owners said that it would be a breach of sanctions for the Owners to continue with the performance of the COA and noted that the “sanctions will prevent dollar payments, which are required under the COA”.

The force majeure clause provided for the suspension of the obligation of each party to perform the Charter Party while such Force Majeure Event is in operation.  The clause provided that

“36.3. A Force Majeure Event is an event or state of affairs which meets all of the following criteria:

a) It is outside the immediate control of the Party giving the Force Majeure Notice;

b) It prevents or delays the loading of the cargo at the loading port and/or the discharge of the cargo at the discharging port;

c) It is caused by one or more of acts of God, extreme weather conditions, war, lockout, strikes or other labour disturbances, explosions, fire, invasion, insurrection, blockade, embargo, riot, flood, earthquake, including all accidents to piers, shiploaders, and/or mills, factories, barges, or machinery, railway and canal stoppage by ice or frost, any rules or regulations of governments or any interference or acts or directions of governments, the restraint of princes, restrictions on monetary transfers and exchanges;

d) It cannot be overcome by reasonable endeavors from the Party affected.”

The claim arose from the fact that RTI had chartered in 7 vessels when MUR, alleging force majeure, suspended performance of the COA in April 2018, and was based on the difference between the COA and chartered in rates for these 7 vessels.

The tribunal accepted that the effect of both “primary” and “secondary” sanctions was drastic. Thus, normal commercial counterparties would be frightened of trading with the party that has been sanctioned, bank finance was likely to be frozen, and underwriters would be reluctant to insure normal trading activities. The tribunal also held that sanctions had an impact on the ability of the Charterers to make US dollar payments to the Owners. The tribunal held that, but for one point, the Owners’ case on force majeure succeeded. The point on which it failed was that, applying the terms of the force majeure clause, it could have been “overcome by reasonable endeavours from the Party affected.” This was because the tribunal considered that the exercise of reasonable endeavours required the Owners to accept a proposal made by the Charterers to make payment in €. The tribunal described this as a “completely realistic alternative” to the payment obligation in the COA, which was to pay in US dollars.

Jacobs J held that the Tribunal had erred in their finding that “reasonable endeavours” required the Owners to accept the Charterers’ proposal to make payment in a non-contractual currency. A party does not have to perform the contract otherwise than in accordance with the contract in order to avoid a force majeure event. There was no reason to construe the force majeure clause as being concerned only with contractual obligations directly concerned with loading and discharging: the force majeure event may have an impact on other contractual obligations which then have the causative impact required by clause 36.3 (b). Jacobs J noted “Clause 36.3 (b) is an important part of the force majeure clause: it identifies the necessary consequence, as a matter of causation, of the “event or state of affairs” described in other parts of the clause. However, it is clear from clause 36.3 (c) that there may be a wide range of different matters which bring about the consequence that loading or discharge is delayed or prevented. Those matters include “restrictions on monetary transfers and exchanges”.

Interruption of laytime and demurrage due to owners refusing to berth.

In London Arbitration 12/22 a dispute arose as to demurrage due under a charter on an amended Gencon 94 form for a voyage carrying coal from Indonesia to China.  The owners refused to berth the vessel when ordered to do so by the charterers, because of the probability of a delay in commencing discharge because the storage yard to which the charterers intended to discharge the cargo was full. Charterers did not confirm they would reimburse the owners for berthing charges levied on the vessel during the period of non-discharge, and the vessel therefore remained at the anchorage until space became available.

The tribunal found that berthing charges levied on the vessel fell to the account of owners under 13(a) of the Gencon 94 form which provides “Taxes and Dues Clause (a) On Vessel – The Owners shall pay all dues, charges and taxes customarily levied on the Vessel, howsoever the amount thereof may be assessed.” The cost of using the berth was not part of the cost of cargo operations, which were for charterer’s account under cl.5.

The tribunal found that following The Stolt Spur [2002] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 786, any non-availability, whether it affected cargo operations or not, or even if none were planned, was sufficient to prevent laytime and or demurrage running. The owners were in breach of their obligation to have their vessel available, whether called upon to perform cargo operations or not, and this applied to a ship at anchorage, especially were a berth was free.

EU Port Services Regulation heading for the UK dustbin. Consultation process now running.

The Port Services Regulation 2017/352 Regulation (the PSR), includes provisions in the following areas: market access for port service providers; transfer of undertakings; financial transparency; charges; training and consultation; complaints and appeals.

The PSR has not been popular in the UK. In October 2017 the then shipping minister John Hayes told members of the UK Major Ports Group that the Regulation would be “consigned to the dustbin” in the UK due to Brexit”. But the Port Services Regulation was not immediately repealed. It was supplemented in domestic legislation by practical and procedural provisions in the Port Services Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/575) and in The Pilotage and Port Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/671 which covers the situation as from 1.1.21.

The government’s view is that all the areas covered by the Ports Services Regulation are sufficiently covered in the UK by commercial practice within the framework of domestic law. The government intends to repeal the PSR as EU retained law, to revoke The Port Services Regulations 2019, and to amend the Pilotage and Port Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, by revoking those parts of the regulations that relate to the PSR and were made to ensure that the EU PSR remained operable after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

 The government has now opened a consultation period from 22 March – 22 April 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/repealing-the-eu-port-services-legislation/repealing-the-eu-port-services-legislation#:~:text=The%20government%20has%20signalled%20its,worked%20properly%20for%20the%20UK.

The Prestige, 20 years on. CJEU reference may be withdrawn at last gasp.

The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain M/T “PRESTIGE” (No. 5) [2022] EWCA Civ 238 (01 March 2022),  concerns a reference to the CJEU by Butcher J, arising out of the longstanding litigation between Spain and the owners’ P&I Club in connection with the Prestige oil spill in 2002. The Club had appealed against an order registering the judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court on 28 May 2019. The appeal was fixed for a two-week trial from 2 December 2020 to determine (i) as a matter of law, whether the judgment entered by Hamblen J constituted a judgment within the meaning of Article 34(3) and, if not, whether that judgment and the arbitration award (and the res judicata to which they give rise as a matter of English law) could be relied upon and (ii) as a matter of fact and law, whether the Spanish Proceedings had breached the human rights of the defendants, including the Club.

Spain made an application seeking the reference of six questions to the CJEU (later adding a seventh) and invited  Butcher J to determine that application at the hearing of the appeal in order to be in a position to lodge any request with the CJEU before “the Brexit cut off”  with the end of the Implementation Period on 31 December 2020. On 21 December 2020 Butcher J then referred three issues to the CJEU.

“(1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?

(2)  Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?

(3)  On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought, is it permissible to rely on 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?”

At the time of making the reference Butcher J had not decided the Club’s human rights argument. That was decided against the Club in May 2021, after the end of the Implementation Period, and could not be referred to the CJEU. The reference, C-700/20, was heard by the CJEU on 31 January 2022 and the opinion of the Advocate General is expected on 5 May 2022, with the judgment of the CJEU to be delivered at any time thereafter.

The Club appealed the decision of Butcher J, and on 1 March 2022 the Court of Appeal held that Butcher J did not have the authority to refer the questions to the CJEU. The necessity test mandated in Art 267 of 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would only be satisfied if the European law question is conclusive of the issue which the national court has to decide on a particular occasion in accordance with its national procedure. The judge’s discretion as to whether to make a reference only arises once the test of necessity has been satisfied.  That was not the case here as Butcher J had not decided the human rights policy issue raised by the Club. Unless and until that issue had been determined against the Club, the questions referred could not be said to be conclusive or even substantially determinative of the appeal. The questions could have been resolved entirely in Spain’s favour, yet the Club could have won on the human rights issue. Looking at previous CJEU authority in Cartesio Oktato es Szolgaltato bt (Case 210/06) [2009] Ch 354 it was clear that as a matter of national law a reference can be set aside on appeal.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the Judge’s order referring the questions to the CJEU. However, only the referring judge has jurisdiction to withdraw the reference. The Court of Appeal referred to Butcher J, pursuant to CPR 52.20(2)(b), the question of whether, in the light its judgment, he should withdraw the reference he made to the CJEU on 21 December 2020. The Court of Appeal indicated that the hearing should take place as soon as possible, and in any event in time for any decision to withdraw the reference to be effective.

UK bans Russian ships from entry to UK ports

As part of the UK’s sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, Regulations 57 a-i of The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/203) took effect on 1 March 2022. These ban the entry into UK ports of

(a)a ship owned, controlled, chartered or operated by a designated person,

(b)a ship owned, controlled, chartered or operated by persons connected with Russia,

(c)a ship registered in Russia,

(d)a ship flying the flag of Russia, or

(e)a specified ship.

A ship is ‘controlled’ by “a person who is able to take decisions about its operation, including (but not limited to) decisions about the route the ship may take and the appointment of master or crew.

The Secretary of State may direct the UK Ship Registrar to terminate the registration of such ships and to direct harbour authorities to detain Russian ships at ports or anchorages.

The Secretary of State may also specify a ship for the purposes of the entry prohibitions provided the Secretary of State—

(a) has reasonable grounds to suspect that the ship is, has been, or is likely to be, involved in a relevant activity, and

(b) considers that it is appropriate for that ship to be specified, having regard to the purposes stated in regulation 4.

A ship is “involved in a relevant activity” if the ship is used for any activity whose object or effect is to contravene or circumvent, or to enable or facilitate the contravention or circumvention of, any provision of these Regulations.

The prohibition on entry does not, as yet, apply to Russian cargo although there have been incidents where dockers in the UK have refused to unload such cargo.

Canada also closed its port to Russian ships on 1 March. The European Commission has also proposed banning Russian ships from docking at European ports but there is currently opposition to this.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that an estimated 60,000 Russian and Ukrainian sailors are stuck at ports, with Russia providing over 10% of the global workforce for shipping.

Russia’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, has said that nations that ban Russian ships from their ports could face retaliation.

Article 13.2 LLMC. Effect on LOU of owners establishing limitation fund in a different jurisdiction.

A maritime claim is brought before the courts of a state which applies the 1996 Protocol to the 1976 LLMC, and the owners P&I Club provides security based on the limits of the 1996 Protocol. However, the owners commence proceedings in another jurisdiction to limit by reference to the lower level in the 1976 LLMC which is in force in that jurisdiction? Do those proceedings affect the security provided by the Club? This was the issue which came before HH Judge Pelling QC in the High Court in Enemalta Plc v The Standard Club Asia Ltd [2021] EWHC 1215 (Comm)

The claim was for damage to an underwater connector cable, which caused a nationwide power failure in Malta. This was allegedly caused by a vessel, whose registered owners were a company domiciled in Singapore , and which was entered with the defendant P&I Club. The claim was brought in Malta which applies the 1996 Protocol and security was provided by owner’s P&I Club up to the limitation figure in the 1996 Protocol, and the LOU was subject to English law and exclusive jurisdiction of English High Court.

Owners then commenced proceedings in Singapore and sought to limit by reference to the lower level in the 1976 LLMC which applied in Singapore. Owners invited the Singapore court to order that on establishment of this fund any existing security given by or on behalf of owners should be released immediately. The claimants then requested the English High Court to make various declarations as to the validity of the LOU, irrespective of what the Singapore Court might decide. The defendant to these proceedings was the P&I Club and not the owner and the sole basis for the challenge to the High Court’s jurisdiction to make the requested declaration was that the Singapore Court had sole and exclusive jurisdiction to make an order art 13.2 of 1976 Convention.

Article 13.2 provides: “After a limitation fund has been constituted in accordance with Article 11, any ship or other property, belonging to a person on behalf of whom the fund has been constituted, which has been arrested or attached within the jurisdiction of a State Party for a claim which may be raised against the fund, or any security given, may be released by order of the Court or other competent authority of such State…”

HH Judge Pelling QC saw the instant case as the mirror image of the ICL Vikraman [2003] EWHC 2320 Comm, where an English domiciled Club provided a LOU, with a non- exclusive English jurisdiction agreement, to Cargo in Singapore to secure release of vessel arrested there. The UK was then party to 1976 LLMC, and Singapore not. Owners established their Fund in England and applied to the High Court to order the release of the  LOU under art 13.2 of LLMC. Colman J  held that although the owner was entitled to establish the limitation fund in England, the effect of Article 13.2 was that security located in Singapore did not fall within that article because Singapore was not a state party to the 1976 Convention and so that security would not be, or could not be, released

In the instant case, it was at least strongly arguable that an English court applying English law would conclude that the letter of undertaking should be treated as located in England. Therefore, the Singapore Court would have no jurisdiction to order its release, if that is what ultimately happened. The LOU would not be a security within the jurisdiction of a state party to the 1976 Convention. If the claimant succeeded in recovering a judgment in the Maltese proceedings for a sum in excess of the security that would be provided under the 1976 Convention in Singapore, the claimant would then seek to enforce its claim in England against the defendant under the letter of undertaking. By the terms of the LOU those proceedings would have to be brought in England and would be subject to English law. There was no principled reason why the court would not have jurisdiction to determine by declaration what would be the effect on the LOU of any order made by the Singapore Court under Article 13.2.

Although the Singapore Court had exclusive jurisdiction to make an order under Article 13.2 of the 1976 Convention, the present proceedings were concerned with the dispute between the claimant and the defendant as to the effect of any order made in the Singapore proceedings, commenced by or in the name of the vessel’s owner, on the liability of the defendant under its autonomous contract with the claimant. That was an issue that the parties had agreed should be determined exclusively by the English Court. Accordingly, HH Judge Pelling QC rejected the Club’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the High Court to hear the claim seeking declarations as to the continuing validity of the security provided under the LOU.

Covid-19 and delays under time charters.

Another London Arbitration award concerning the effects on charterparties of the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.

London Arbitration 4/22, involved events in the early stages of the outbreak of Covid-19, before the declaration of a pandemic. The vessel arrived at the discharge port in China on 4 March 2020. Due to anxiety about the outbreak of Covid-19 the third officer checked the temperature of each pilot when they came aboard with a contactless hand-held infrared thermometer and it was alleged that each pilot had temperatures in excess of 37.5C which the master said exceeded the maximum allowed by the owners’ company policy. The master then insisted that the pilots take their temperatures with mercury thermometer before embarking on vessel.  The pilots refused to do so and the vessel missed its berthing slot. After owners had sent an apology for the benefit of the piloting company on an entirely without prejudice basis, replacement pilots boarded the vessel on 13 March to bring it into berth.

The vessel had been chartered for a time charter trip on amended NYPE form and charterers argued that it had gone off-hire for three reasons. First there had been a default of officers or crew under cl. 15. The tribunal held that there was no such default which would involve a refusal by the crew to perform their duties to the shipowner, as defined in The Saldanha [2011] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 187. In contrast, here the master and third officer were clearly seeking to implement company policy. rather than refusing to discharge their duties owed to the shipowners.

Secondly, by reference to cl.58 which provided: “58. Deviation/Put Back: Should the vessel put back whilst on voyage by reason of … the refusal of the Captain, Officers or crew to do their duties without any specific or valid ground for rejection, or any Owners’ matters unless caused by default of Charterers and/or their staff and/or their agents, the payment of hire shall be suspended from the time of inefficiency in port or at sea until the vessel is again efficient in the same position or regains a point of progress equivalent to that the hire ceased hereunder …” The tribunal rejected charterers’ argument as there was no refusal of the master, officers or crew to do their duties within the meaning of clause 58.

Thirdly, by reason of deviation/put back provisions under cl.15 whereby hire would be suspended:  “Should the vessel deviate or put back during a voyage, contrary to the orders or directions of the Charterers, for any reason for other than accident to the cargo..” The tribunal found that there was little logical or practical difference between the vessel being physically diverted away from its course rather than simply failing to proceed forward on that course, and if necessary would have found that the vessel went off-hire under this provision.

In the event, the tribunal was not required to express a firm view on the point and determine the matter on the basis of off-hire. Instead it found that charterers were entitled to damages for owners’ breach of cl.8 as the refusal of the master to allow the pilots to remain on board and, to proceed to berth on 4 March was a failure on the part of the owners to follow the charterers’ legitimate orders and directions. There was no risk to the ship, crew or cargo in those orders to justify the action of those on board the vessel and the delay that resulted from those actions. A general fear of Covid-19 did not provide the owners with carte blanche to refuse to perform under the charterparty, and unilaterally to impose their own conditions for the attendance of the pilots. The charterers were entitled to recover in damages the value of hire and bunkers for time lost.

Incorporation of charter terms into bills of lading. Is shipowner’s right to a general average contribution from cargo interests excluded?

The Polar ( [2021] EWCA Civ 1828) involved a claim by owners to recover cargo’s proportion of general average in relation to a payment to pirates who had detained the vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The cargo owners defended the claim on the ground that the shipowner’s only remedy in the event of having to pay a ransom to pirates was to recover under the terms of insurance policies, the premium for which had been paid by the voyage charterer.

The charter was on BPVOY 4 standard form, cl.39 of which provided a war risks clause which covered “acts of piracy”. There was also a Gulf of Aden clause which provided:

“Any additional insurance premia (including, but not limited to, those in respect of H&M, crew, P&I kidnap risks and ransoms), crew bonuses (which to be in accordance with the international standard) shall be for chrtrs account. Max USD 40,000 for charterer’s account for any additional insurance premium except for crew bonus which to be max USD 20,000 for charterers account.”

Six bills of lading were issued all of which incorporated the terms of the charterparty and five provided for general average to be settled under the York-Antwerp Rules 1974, with one providing for general average to be settled under the 1994 Rules. The insurance premium was just short of the $40,000 figure in the Gulf of Aden clause and the premiums were paid by the shipowner who was then reimbursed by the charterer.

The arbitrators on a determination of two preliminary issues found that: (1) the terms of the voyage charter, including in particular the war risks and Gulf of Aden clauses, were incorporated into the bills of lading; (2) the shipowner, on the true construction of the bills of lading and/or by implication, agree to look solely to its insurance cover under the war risks and/or K&R insurance in the event of a loss covered by that insurance.

On appeal Teare J held that the incorporating words in the bills of lading were wide enough to incorporate the war risks and Gulf of Aden clauses. However, the bills of lading holders were not liable for additional premium as it was not appropriate to substitute the “bills of lading holders” for “charterers” so as to impose a liability on them to pay the premium. As between the shipowner and charterers the parties had agreed that the shipowner would look to the insurers for indemnification in respect of losses under the Gulf of Aden clause and not to the charterer so that they were precluded from seeking a contribution from the charterer in respect of general average. However, the incorporated provisions of the charterparty did not have this effect as regards the bill of lading holders, who had not agreed to pay the premium.

The Court of Appeal has now upheld the decision. Males LJ, giving the judgment of the Court, noted that this was a weaker case than either The Evia (no 2) or the Ocean Victory for concluding that the shipowner had agreed not to claim a contribution in general average from the charterer. However, the question did not need to be decided, and the case could  proceed on the basis that there was an implicit agreement to this effect as between owners and charterers. As regard the bills of ladings, it was doubtful that the very wide words of incorporation were wide enough to encompass what was merely implicit in the express terms considered as a whole. To find in the bills of lading an agreement by the shipowner not to seek a general average contribution from the cargo owners, that must be because the express terms of the charterparty which are incorporated into the bills demonstrate that the same (or an equivalent) agreement was intended to apply also under the bills of lading.

Part of the additional war risks and Gulf of Aden clauses were prima facie incorporated into the bills of lading contracts, but the next issue was whether the requirement on the charterer to pay the premium should be “manipulated” so as to impose that obligation on the bill of lading holders. Males LJ found that is was not appropriated to engage in such manipulation. There was nothing in either the bills or the charter to say how liability for the premium would be apportioned between different bill of lading holders. The fact that neither the bills nor the charterparty addressed this question suggested that the bill of lading holders were not intended to be liable for the premium. However, the incorporation of these terms did serve a useful purpose as the basis on which the shipowner has agreed in the bill of lading contract that the voyage will be via Suez and the Gulf of Aden, without which there would be uncertainty as to the vessel’s route.

Cargo argued that the premium paid by the charterer could be regarded as paid for the benefit of the bill of lading holders on the basis that its counterparty would not seek contribution from them as the party for whose benefit the premium is paid in the event of an insured loss. Males LJ rejected the argument as the risks of piracy and the potential need to pay a ransom were foreseen by the parties to the bill of lading contract and dealt with expressly by them. There were no clear express words to rebut the presumption that the shipowner did not intend to abandon its right to a contribution from the cargo owners in general average. Any “implicit understanding” was not so clear as to show that this was what the parties intended, particularly as the charterer was not necessarily paying the whole of the additional premium which would be necessary to obtain the cover required.

 In this case both parties were insured against the risk of piracy and allowing the shipowner to claim would mean that each set of insurers would bear its proper share of the risk which it has agreed to cover. In contrast, if the bills of lading were construed so as to exclude a claim by the shipowner, the loss would be borne entirely by the shipowner’s insurers and  the cargo owners’ insurers would escape liability for a risk which they agreed to cover.

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.

It is now a question of when not whether the case ends up in the Supreme Court, as leave to appeal was granted on 5 September 2022.

Article III(1) and IV(1) of the Hague Rules. Navigational errors by master in passage plan preparation before and at the beginning of the voyage.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave judgment in Alize 1954 and another (Appellants) v Allianz Elementar Versicherungs AG and others (Respondents) [2021] UKSC 51.

The case arose out of the grounding of the container vessel CMA CGM LIBRA on leaving the port of Xiamen, China, on a voyage to Hong Kong. The Admiralty Judge, Teare J, found that the vessel’s defective passage plan was causative of the grounding and that this involved a breach of the carrier’s seaworthiness obligation under article III rule 1 of the Hague Rules. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision. Owners contended that these decisions were wrong because the vessel was not unseaworthy and/or due diligence was exercised, and that any negligence in passage planning was a navigational fault which is exempted under article IV rule 2(a) of the Hague Rules.

Two issues were raised the appeal. First, is the carrier’s seaworthiness obligation under the Hague Rules subject to a category-based distinction between a vessel’s quality of seaworthiness, its attributes and equipment, or navigability and the crew’s act of navigating which concerns how the crew operates the vessel using those attributes? Second, what amounts to due diligence under article IV rule 1 of the Hague Rules? Has the carrier shown due diligence if it has equipped the vessel with all that is necessary for her to be safely navigated, including a competent crew?

The Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Admiralty Court. The carrier’s obligation under the Hague Rules was not subject to a category based distinction between a vessel’s quality of seaworthiness or navigability and the crew’s act of navigating. Given the “essential importance” of passage planning for the “safety … of navigation”, applying the prudent owner test, a vessel is likely to be unseaworthy if she begins her voyage without a passage plan or if she does so with a defective passage plan which endangers the safety of the vessel. The fact that the defective passage plan involves neglect or default in “the navigation of the ship” within the article IV rule 2(a) exception was no defence to a claim for loss or damage caused by the vessel being rendered unseaworthy before and at the beginning of the voyage as a result of that navigational  negligence. The vessel was therefore unseaworthy before and at the beginning of the voyage by reason of the defective passage plan.

The owners were unable to show that they had taken due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy. Their duty was non-delegable and the crew’s failure to navigate the ship safely was capable of constituting a lack of due diligence by the carrier. It made no difference that the delegated task of making the vessel seaworthy involved navigation. The carrier is liable for a failure to exercise due diligence by the master and deck officers of his vessel in the preparation of a passage plan for the vessel’s voyage, irrespective of the fact that navigation is the responsibility of the master and involves the exercise by the master and deck officers of their specialist skill and judgment.