Where is General Average?

Jurisdiction decisions in the shipping context follow each other in close succession. Yesterday we had another, from Males J, of some interest to insurers: namely, Griffin Underwriting Ltd v Varouxakis (The Free Goddess) [2018] EWHC 3259 (Comm).

The Free Goddess, a 22,000 dwt bulker owned by Freeseas, was seized by Somali pirates while en route to Thailand with steel coils. K & R insurers Griffin, based in Guernsey but doing business in London, paid out something over $6 million to free her, whereupon she sailed to Oman. Griffin clearly had a right to take over from Freeseas a pretty cast-iron GA claim against cargo interests: on arrival it duly entered into a settlement agreement with Freeseas under which Freeseas agreed to furnish all assistance, including preservation of security, in claiming GA and also to account to Griffin for all sums received on that basis. GA, as might be expected, was settlable and payable in London.

According to Griffin’s (as yet unestablished) allegations, Freeseas did no such thing. Instead of the obvious course of oncarrying the cargo to Thailand and claiming GA in due course, it sold the ship in Oman, destroying any security for GA and providing cargo with a counterclaim for damages which was likely to dwarf the GA liability in any case. In addition it had allegedly trousered a large sum in interim GA contributions without accounting for it. 

Freeseas not being worth powder and shot, Griffin sued one Ion Varouxakis, the Greek-domiciled owner of the company, for inducing it to break the settlement agreement. They alleged that the damage had been suffered in London and therefore they could invoke Art.7, the tort article of Brussels I Recast. Mr Varouxakis insisted that he could only be sued in Greece, arguing for good measure that this was a suit by an underwriter in a matter relating to insurance under Art.14, so the other exceptions did not apply.

In fact Mr Varouxakis was held to have waived any jurisdiction point, so the claim is going ahead in London anyway. But Males J did go on to give a view on the other points. On the issue of the loss of the right to GA, he regarded the issue of where the loss had been suffered as finely balanced, but expressed the view that the direct damage had been suffered in Oman, where he opined that the right to enforce GA had been effectively lost: the fact that GA had not been paid in London he regarded as a remoter consequence and not in account because of decisions such as Kronhofer v Mayer [2004] All ER (EC) 939. So there would have been no jurisdiction. On the other hand, he thought the loss had been suffered in London as regarded the failure to account, and so would have allowed the claim under that head to go ahead on that head in any event. As for the suggestion that this was a matter relating to insurance, he smartly rebuffed the point: insurance might be the background, but this arose out of an independent settlement agreement.

The second point was fairly obvious: if someone infringes my right to an accounting in London, it is difficult to think of anywhere apart from London where the damage occurs. The third is also welcome: the insurance rules under under Art.14 are ill-thought-out even by Euro-standards, and anything that prevents their becoming any more bloated than they already are can only be a good thing.  

This blog is less sure about the first. Saying the damage occurred in Oman gets pretty close to conflating damage with the act giving rise to it; it also means that the place of the damage in cases of this sort becomes wildly arbitrary, depending on which port a vessel happens to be in at the time. On the other hand, if GA is settled and negotiated in London, it seems fairly convincing to argue that preventing it being settled and paid there causes a direct loss within the Square Mile. Unfortunately, because the claimants won in any case, we are unlikely to see an appeal here. But this shouldn’t be regarded as necessarily the last word.


Barratry and the Hague-Visby Rules

Glencore Energy UK Ltd v Freeport Holdings Ltd [2017] EWHC 3348 (Comm) raised the question of  whether barratry affected owners’ entitlement to rely on two of the exceptions in art. IV (2) of the Hague-Visby Rules. A fire started inside the engine control room of the “Lady M” while the vessel was on a laden voyage from Russia to the USA.  The fire resulted in owners engaging salvors to tow the vessel to Las Palmas where owners declared general average. Cargo interests denied liability to contribute on the basis that there had been the fire had constituted a breach of the contract of carriage, which was subject to the Hague-Visby Rules. I

t was agreed that the fire was started deliberately by a member of the crew with the intent to cause damage and for the purposes of the preliminary issues the assumed facts were that:  the perpetrator was the Chief Engineer; he acted alone; at the time of starting the fire deliberately and with intent to cause damage he was: “a. under extreme emotional stress and/or anxiety due to the illness of his mother; b. alternatively, suffering from an unknown and undiagnosed personality disorder and/or mental illness;c. alternatively, neither a nor b above.”

Three preliminary issues came before Popplewell J.

(1)        Did the conduct of the chief engineer constitute barratry?

(2)        Is Article IV Rule 2(b) capable of exempting the Owners from liability if the fire was deliberately or barratrously caused?

(3)        Are the Owners exempt from liability under the “any other cause” exception in Article IV Rule 2(q)?

 

Popplewell J defined barratry as (i) a deliberate act or omission by the master, crew or other servant of the owners (ii) which is a wrongful act or omission (iii) to the prejudice of the interests of the owner of the ship or goods (whether or not such prejudice is intended) (iv) without the privity of the owner. A “wrongful act or omission” would be: one that is generally recognised as a crime, including the mental element necessary to make the conduct criminal; or (b) a serious breach of duty owed by the person in question to the shipowner, committed by him knowing it to be a breach of duty or reckless whether that be so. It would be necessary for the crew member to have had the necessary knowledge or intent that what he is doing is either a crime or a serious breach of duty owed towards his owners, or at least recklessness in that regard. On the assumed facts the chief engineer may or may not have constituted barratry, depending upon further facts as to his state of mind. However, the issue of barratry was not determinative of the second and third preliminary issues.

Popplewell J went on to find that the owners were able to rely on the fire exception in art. IV (2)(b) applied, whether or not the fire was caused by  barratry. However, they would not be able to rely on the “any other cause” exception in art. IV (2)(q) as the chief engineer was acting within the course of his employment on the agreed facts. His access to the control room arose directly from the field of activities entrusted to him by the owners and his setting fire to the control room, with intent to cause damage, was a misuse of his position in the field of activities for which he was employed.

 

Unseaworthiness and general average.  The Cape Bonny.

 

The Cape Bonny [2017] EWHC 3036 (Comm) gives us another general average judgment, following hot on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in The Longchamp. This time it was the effect of an actionable fault of the shipowner that was in issue.

An oil tanker suffered an engine breakdown on a voyage to China at a time when the vessel was endeavouring to avoid a tropical storm. The vessel required towage assistance and engaged a tow. She was not permitted to enter a port of refuge in Japan or to discharge at the Chinese discharge port and was taken to South Korea to transfer her cargo to another vessel by STS. At the time the vessel set sail, she had been unseaworthy in two respects. First, some of her filters were not seaworthy. Secondly, there was abnormal wear on one of the bearings. Cargo interests refused to pay their general average contribution on the basis that there had been actionable fault on the part of the shipowners, namely their failure  to exercise due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy as required by art III(1) of the Hague-Visby Rules which were incorporated into the contract of carriage.

Teare J found that owners had failed to exercise due diligence in respect of both of the instances of unseaworthiness, but that the first instance had not been causative of the breakdown.  A proper inspection of the filter candles prior to sailing would not necessarily have revealed that some had damaged mesh, as not all the candles were damaged. However, the deflection readings prior to sailing would have alerted a prudent engineer or superintendent to taking bearing clearance measurements. This failure to take due diligence was causative in that such measurements would have indicated abnormal wear requiring a repair before the voyage could safely be undertaken.

Accordingly, the general average expenditure incurred by the owners was due to their actionable fault and cargo interests were not liable to make a general average contribution. Teare J then went on to consider, obiter, whether the tow expenses would have been recoverable as being “reasonably made” as required by Rule A.  Although the vessel was immobilised at sea and not in danger of drifting aground, there was a tropical storm in the area and it was reasonable to engage a tug which could get to the vessel as soon as possible. Teare J approved the statement in Lowndes and Rudolf at para. A-42 to the effect that immobilisation caused by a main engine breakdown is a sufficient peril or danger in the law of general average “even if the accident occurs in fine weather. The cost of towage and/or salvage into a port of refuge will then unquestionably be treated as general average.” The actions of the owners in discharging the cargo by STS operations were also reasonable given that owners had failed in their attempts to get the vessel into a Japanese port of refuge and to get the receivers to accept delivery in the Chinese port of discharge.

 

Operating expenses incurred during ransom negotiations. Now allowable under Rule F of YAR 1974.

In The Longchamp reported in our blog of 9 August 2016, the Court of Appeal held that four items of vessel operating expenses incurred during ransom negotiations with pirates were not allowable in general average as substituted expenses under Rule F of the York Antwerp Rules 1974.

Rule F provides:

“Any extra expense incurred in place of another expense which would have been allowable as general average shall be deemed to be general average and so allowed without regard to the saving, if any, to other interests, but only up to the amount of the general average expense avoided.

The items claimed in respect of this period were: crew wages; the high risk bonus due to the crew for being at sea in a high risk area; crew maintenance; bunkers consumed. The expenses were incurred over a 51 day period of negotiation with the pirates which resulted in the release of the vessel on payment of a ransom of US1.85m, as opposed to the US$ 6m initially demanded. The Court of Appeal held that Rule F presupposes some real choice being made. Acceptance of the initial ransom demand is not a true alternative; nor is acceptance of any other ransom sum less than that initially demanded but greater than that eventually agreed.

The Supreme Court has now overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal and held, Lord Mance dissenting on the facts, that the four operating expenses were allowable under Rule F. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision that the operating expenses did not fall within Rule F because payment of a reduced ransom was not an ‘alternative course of action’ to paying the ransom initially demanded, but was merely a variant. This reasoning required a different means to be adopted to complete the adventure from that which might normally be expected. This was the prevailing view of the texts on General Average and among practitioners, but was not supported by the language of Rule F. In any event, incurring the operating expenses did represent an ‘alternative course of action’ to paying the ransom intially demanded.

Both lower courts had found that the reference in Rule F to “another expense which would have been allowable as general average” is to an expense whose quantum is such that it would have qualified as a claim under Rule A. Both lower courts had accepted that on the facts payment of the ransom in full would have been reasonable. The Supreme Court disagreed with this construction of Rule F. The reference in Rule F to ‘allowable in General Average’ did not mean that the expense (in this case payment of the full ransom demanded) had to be reasonably incurred. It had to be of a type that would constitute a General Average expense. If so, the substituted expense (in this case the payment of the lower ransom together with the operating costs during the period of negotiation) would be allowable, but only to the extent that it did not exceed the sum avoided and that it was established that it was reasonable to pay the ransom that was paid together with incurring the operating expenses and the negotiation expenses during the 51 days.

The Supreme Court also rejected cargo interest’s argument that the exclusion of indirect loss including demurrage from General Average under Rule C served to exclude the operating expenses from Rule F. Rule C did not apply to expenses recoverable under Rule F which by definition were expenses not themselves allowable in General Average but were alternatives to sums that were allowable.

 

General average and cargo interests.

 

In Offshore Marine Services Alliance Pty Ltd v Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd and Another [2017] FCA 333 the Federal Court of Australia was called on to  decide whether parties interested in the cargo, other than the cargo owners at the date of the GA incident, were liable to contribute in general average. A tug and barge carrying construction materials grounded on its voyage from Henderson to Barrow Island and the disponent owner of the barge and tug incurred expenses and costs in securing the common safety of the barge and the cargo, including costs of some Aus $4m associated with stabilising the damaged hull of the barge, re-floating it and towing it back to Henderson with the cargo intact and undamaged.

The disponent owners claimed GA contributions from Leighton and Thiess who had supplied the cargo pursuant to contracts with Chevron. At the time of the incident ownership in the cargo had passed to Chevron, but the disponent owners claimed that Leighton and Thiess had a relevant interest in the goods because under their contracts they remained “on risk” in respect of the goods, and/or were “responsible for the care, custody, control, safekeeping and preservation of” the goods prior to their acceptance by Chevron.

McKerracher J held that a liability to contribute in GA attached only to the owner of the cargo that benefitted from the general average act, or someone contractually liable to contribute would be liable to contribute.

Pirates, ransom, and general average. There really is no alternative.

 

The Longchamp involved the allowance in General Average under Rule F of the York Antwerp Rules 1974 of expenses incurred by the shipowners while they were negotiating a ransom with Somali pirates over a period of some six weeks following the vessel’s seizure in the Gulf of Aden. Four items were claimed in respect of this period: crew wages, the high risk bonus due to the crew for being at sea in a high risk area, crew maintenance, bunkers consumed. Stephen Hofmeyr QC found that all items were allowable in general average. His finding has now been overruled by the Court of Appeal : [2016] EWCA Civ 708.

Rule F provides:

“Any extra expense incurred in place of another expense which would have been allowable as general average shall be deemed to be general average and so allowed without regard to the saving, if any, to other interests, but only up to the amount of the general average expense avoided.

The crux of the matter is whether these expenses were incurred “in place of another expense which would have been allowable as general average”. In this case, the shipowners claimed these expenses were incurred in place of an immediate payment of the demanded ransom at a higher figure than the ransom eventually negotiated. The Court of Appeal accepted cargo’s contention that in fact there was only one course open after the hijacking of the vessel (negotiation with the pirates to seek to achieve a release of the vessel and cargo) and the substituted expenses were incurred taking that course. There were only two available options to the owners once the vessel had been seized by pirates – abandon the vessel and cargo or engage with the pirates, negotiate and agree a ransom and pay it to effect release of ship, crew and cargo.  Rule F presupposes some real choice being made. Acceptance of the initial ransom demand is not a true alternative; nor is acceptance of any other ransom sum less than that initially demanded but greater than that eventually agreed.  Accordingly, the four expenses claimed by owners were not allowable in under Rule F.

The owners also claimed in respect of the costs of professional media response under Rule A in that they were incurred “for the common safety for the purpose of preserving from peril the property involved in a common maritime adventure”.  At first instance, cargo interests argued that the costs must have been incurred for that sole purpose. The Judge rejected that argument and held that the costs were allowed.  On appeal they submitted that the costs must have been incurred for that predominant purpose. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument. It was enough that preserving the property from peril was an effective cause.

OK, YAR? BIMCO gives thumbs up to York Antwerp Rules 2016.

BIMCO has decided that all new and revised BIMCO charter parties, bills of lading and waybills will refer to general average being adjusted in accordance with the YAR 2016 adopted by the CMI earlier this month. The main features of the new rules are as follows.

The new rules revert to certain key provisions of the 1994 rules, as regards:

– salvage (art VI),

– inclusion of wages and maintenance of the master, officers and crew during the period a vessel is in a port or place of refuge undergoing repairs recoverable in general average (rule XI).

– removal of the cap, introduced in the YAR 2004, on the cost of temporary repairs of accidental damage at a port of refuge (rule XIV)

The new rules retain the time bar introduced in rule XXIII of the YAR 2004 and the abolition of the 2 per cent commission on owners’ disbursements under YAR 2004. However, rule XXI now provides for interest on general average expenditure, sacrifices and allowances to be calculated at an annual rate of LIBOR plus 4 percentage points.

Rule XVII now permits adjusters to exclude low value cargoes from contribution to general average where the cost of inclusion would be likely to be disproportionate to its contribution.