“Government interference” and laytime under the  1999 Sugar Charterparty

In Sucden Middle-East v Yagci Denizcilik Ve Ticaret Ltd Sirketi (The MV Muammer Yagci)[2018] EWHC 3873 (Comm) the Court heard an appeal from an arbitral decision  on the following point of law. “where a cargo is seized by the local customs authorities at the discharge port causing a delay to discharge, is the time so lost caused by ‘government interferences’ within the meaning of clause 28 of the Sugar Charter Party 1999 form?”. The case arose out of a substantial period of delay in the vessel’s discharge at Algiers due to the seizure of cargo by the authorities there following the identification of a discrepancy between the cargo and the relevant documents presented by the receivers. The cargo was eventually sold after a four and a half month delay in discharging the cargo.

Robin Knowles J found that delay fell within the laytime and demurrage exception in cl.28 of the Sugar Charterparty 1999 form as being caused by ‘government interferences’. The question put to the court was solely concerned with a seizure of cargo by local customs authorities at the discharge port. The ordinary meaning of the word “interference” was apt to include an intervention in this specific form, that is, by way of seizure. This action on the part of local customs authorities was, in this context, the action of government through its appropriate arm or agency. Seizure of cargo by the customs authorities was not a thing that could be treated as routine. The seizure caused the delay even if the submission of the false documents caused the seizure. The arbitrators had found that the key point would be that all the steps taken were in fact ordinary but that was incorrect. Seizure, of cargo, which is a significant exercise of executive power, cannot be regarded as “ordinary”.

 

Prove it. No damages for redelivery with dirty holds

 

.

London Arbitration 1/19 shows that owners need to substantiate a claim for cleaning dirty holds after redelivery under a time charter. The vessel was chartered on an amended NYPE 1946 form for “2–3 laden legs of minimum duration 40 days”. Line 22 of the charterparty provided for the carriage of “any ordinary cargo” with an additional clause containing various cargo exclusions and restrictions including a stipulation that coal was not to be the last cargo. The charter also provided “Charterers shall have the option of redelivering the Vessel without cleaning of holds against paying the Owners a lumpsum of USD5,000 lumpsum, including removal of dunnage/bark/debris.”

In breach of charter the final voyage was for a full cargo of anthracite, following which the vessel was redelivered to the owners without any cleaning of the holds. The owners then used the crew to clean the holds which took nine days. The vessel’s next employment commenced two days later.

The owners claimed to be compensated at the hire rate for the time spent cleaning the cargo holds following the redelivery of the vessel, some 9.3854 days. The charterers submitted that there was no legal basis for the owners’ method of assessment of their damages claim as being effectively an extended period of hire. The owners had not provided any evidence of any cleaning operations, or of losses or extra costs. There was no evidence of any possible follow-on fixture being missed. No details had been provided of the cleaning operation which was said to have occupied more than nine days. The charterers accepted that payment of US$5,000 for redelivery with unclean holds was due to the owners but denied that any further compensation was due.

The tribunal held that the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the absence of any evidence of losses or extra costs incurred by the owners as a result of their having to clean the cargo holds had to be that none were in fact incurred, and that the owners’ claim therefore had to fail. Owners’ claim was dismissed.

 

 

 

Bareboat charters — keep your paperwork up to date

Life can be demanding for bareboat charterers, whether they are simply chartering in, or using a bareboat charter from a bank as a financing device.

In Silverburn Shipping v Ark Shipping [2019] EWHC 376 (Comm) owners under a Barecon1989 charter had suspicions as to their Korean charterers’ ability and intention to look after the vessel properly, and terminated the charter. One reason they gave was that the charterer had allowed the BV classification to lapse a short time before the vessel went into dry dock, thus breaking its obligation under Clause 9 to “keep the Vessel with unexpired classification of the class … and with other required certificates in force at all times”. Arbitrators refused to order the immediate redelivery of the vessel, holding that the duty to maintain class was not absolute, but rather to renew any expired entry in a reasonable time, and in adition that the duty to maintain the vessel in class was an intermediate term and not a condition.

On a s.69 appeal, Carr J disagreed. She saw no reason to read the obligation to keep the vessel in class as anything other than an absolute duty. Further, while accepting that the oft-emphasised requirement of commercial certainty could be over-used and could not “be deployed as some trump card” (a bon mot at para.[53] that is likely to find its way quickly into textbooks and counsel’s argument), she decided that the duty to keep in class was a condition of the contract, Breach of it could be serious in respect of the tradeability of the ship, and affect insurance, ship mortgage and flag: entry in class was moreover a black-and-white criterion with no shades of grey which was redolent of the idea of a condition.

This is something that needs to be taken seriously by charterers. Although the wording of Clause 13 of Barecon2017 differs slightly from the 1989 version, any discrepancy is minor and Carr J’s reasoning would, we suggest, continue to apply. Moreover, the right to terminate a bareboat charter can have considerable effects, particularly in the case of a financing charter with a purchase option: once the charter goes, so does the option. True, if the grounds for termination were wholly technical, in theory the court would have a right to relieve a bareboat charterer from forfeiture (The Jotunheim [2005] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 181); but this is a difficult jurisdiction to persuade it to exercise, particularly in the face of an agreement for termination entered into by commercially-savvy parties. Charterers and borrowers, you have been warned.

Bill of lading shipper liable for sums due under incorporated head charter.

 

In Singapore Arbitration 1/19 a fraudulent broker purported to charter to shipowners on behalf of X and then sub-chartered to Z. Under the charter to X 100% freight was to be paid within six days of signing and release of bills of lading. The cargo was loaded and a bill of lading was issued to Z as  Z, incorporating all the terms and conditions of the charter and stating ‘freight payable as per charterparty dated 9 November 2010’.  Both charters bore that date. The broker received 95% freight from Z and paid part of that to owners in respect of freight under the X head charter. Owners later claim the unpaid balance of freight, and loading port demurrage, under the X charter from Z as bill of lading shipper. The owners had discharged into a port authority warehouse but had lost their lien when receivers managed to take delivery without payment of sums due under the charter with X. Owners commenced arbitration in Singapore against Z under the bill of lading.

The tribunal held that it did have jurisdiction to determine which of two charters with the same date was incorporated into the bill of lading. Both charters were subject to English law. Applying the San Nicholas it was the head charter that was incorporated.  Notwithstanding the transfer of the bill of lading, the shipper’s liability remained due to section 3(3) COGSA 1992.  Owners did not have to give credit for what Z had paid, but only for what they had received. Owners could not be criticised for having failed to act with due diligence once the balance due under the charter with X came due and had not been received. Owners acted reasonably in discharging into a port authority warehouse. The unfortunate Z was liable for the sums claimed by owners.

Are fall in value claims due to delay and deviation “Cargo Claims” ?

 

 

This issue arose in London Arbitration 4/19 under a charter on NYPE form which incorporated the Inter-Club Agreement 1984 with any subsequent modification or replacement. The parties agreed to extend time for six months under an addendum which contained cl.6 providing that charterers would be fully liable for all cargo claims, howsoever caused, including seaworthiness. During the extended charter period the vessel diverted to Goa and spent 36 days there. Charterers then deducted $295,000 from hire being what they had paid receivers in respect of financial losses due to a fall in the sound arrived value of the cargo due to the deviation to and delay at Goa. Although “cargo claims” could as a matter of language be restricted to claims for physical loss or damage, clause 6 had to be interpreted in the light of the Inter-Club Agreement which was also part of the charter and in particular the definition of “cargo claims” contained in the 1996 Agreement as “claims for loss, damage, shortage…overcarriage of or delay to cargo.” Charterer’s claim therefore related to a “cargo claim” for which they were fully liable under the terms of cl.6.

BIMCO’s 2020 Marine Fuel Sulphur Content Clause for Time Charters and 2020 Fuel Transition Clause.

 

BIMCO have produced two clauses for inclusion in time charterparties to deal with the new Annex VI MARPOL requirements on sulphur content in fuel that come into force on 1 January 2020, and the ban on carriage of non-compliant fuel that comes into force on 1 March 2020.

  1. The Marine Fuel Sulphur Content Clause deals with owners obligation to comply with the sulphur content requirements of MARPOL Annex VI and also the sulphur content requirements of ECAs, and replaces BIMCO’s previous sulphur content clause of 2005.

The clause contains an express requirement for the fuel provided by the time charterers to meet the “specifications and grades” which are commonly set out elsewhere in a time charter party and to ensure compliance by their suppliers with applicable regulation relating to sulphur content. Charterers will also provide an indemnity to owners in relation to non-compliance with MARPOL requirements and the vessel will remain on hire throughout. Owners warrant that the ship will comply with the sulphur content requirements of MARPOL Annex VI which means that the ship is able to consume fuels that meet such requirements. Provided the charterers have supplied compliant fuel, they shall not otherwise be liable for any losses, damages, liabilities, delays, deviations, claims, fines, costs, expenses, actions, proceedings, suits, demands arising out of the owners’ failure to comply with their obligation to comply with the MARPOL requirements.

  1. 2020 Fuel Transition Clause for Time Charter Parties

This deals with the advance planning needed before 1 January 2020. “Compliant Fuel” is defined by reference to the requirements of MARPOL as of 1 January 2020.

“Non-Compliant Fuel” is defined in the context of use or removal of fuel with a sulphur content greater than 0.50%. Such fuel would be MARPOL compliant before 1 January 2020 but the clause is designed to deal with the use or removal of such fuel before that date.

Charterers will need to have supplied the ship with sufficient compliant fuel on board before 1 January 2020 to enable the ship to reach a bunkering port after that date to bunker with compliant fuel. No later than 1 March 2020 there must be no non-compliant fuel carried for use by the vessels. The parties are to cooperate and use reasonable endeavours to ensure no non-compliant fuel is carried by the vessel no later than  1 January 2020. This is to be done preferably by burning, with off-loading of any remaining fuel by 1 March 2020.

Charterers’ obligation is to pay to offload and dispose of any remaining non-compliant fuel they have been unable to burn. Disposal of non-compliant fuel  must be done in accordance with local regulations. Owners’ obligation is to ensure the ship is fit to receive compliant fuel “taking into account the type of Compliant Fuel that will be loaded…”

 

The two clauses are not intended for use by vessel fitted with and operating exhaust gas cleaning systems (i.e. scrubbers).

When does a shipowner have to start the approach voyage under a voyage charter?

Yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld the first instance decision in CSSA Chartering and Shipping Services SA v Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd (The Pacific Voyager) [2018] EWCA Civ 2413 which we noted in this blog on 24 October 2017. The case involved a voyage charter on Shellvoy 5 form which contained no ‘estimated ready to load’ statement. Instead Part 1(b) contained estimated times of arrival for the itinerary on the previous charter. When did the owner’s absolute obligation to begin the approach voyage to the load port commence? Popplewell J held that the obligation began within a reasonable time of the completion of discharge at the final port in the previous charter as specified in the estimated itinerary for that voyage. The owners were in breach of that obligation and charterers were entitled to substantial damages.

The Court of Appeal have upheld this decision. Longmore LJ stated that this meant that there was no need to deal with charterer’s alternative argument that the cancellation date provided a further indication of the time at which it would be reasonable to say that the obligation of utmost despatch arises.  “If, for any reason, it were impermissible to rely on the expected date of arrival of 25th January at the last discharge port under the previous charter, I would have difficulty in saying that the cancellation date would do instead.  It would be necessary to know why it was that 25th January could not be relied on and, if it were because there was no ETA Rotterdam, that might apply equally to any argument about the cancelling date. If, however, there had been no itinerary given and the only guide was the cancelling date, that might be a different matter.  That can (and should) be left to another day for the (perhaps somewhat surprising) terms of such a charterparty to be considered.”

Force majeure and counterfactuals

A nice force majeure issue — and one of considerable importance — came up before Teare J yesterday in Classic Maritime v Limbungan [2018] EWHC 2389 (Comm), argued by IISTL stalwart Simon Rainey QC. Imagine you conclude a contract (in this case a CoA under which you have to provide a number of iron ore cargoes) which in the event you can’t and don’t perform, and never could have performed. An exemption clause in the contract says that if you could have performed it but a force majeure event X (inundations in Brazilian iron ore mines) then occurs that stops you performing it, you are not liable for breach. Event X occurs. Are you (a) in breach of contract, (b) on the hook for substantial damages?

On (a) the answer is Yes. You promised to perform, you haven’t performed, and because you never could have performed in any case you can’t shelter behind the exemption clause.

But what about (b)? There are two ways to look at this. One is to say: this is a simple case of unexcused non-performance, and hence you must be liable to the shipowner for his lost profits on the carriage, a figure amounting to many millions. The other point of view runs thus. If, counterfactually, you could have performed but for X, the shipowner would in the event have had no claim to performance because of the exemption clause. Hence hence it’s no skin off his nose that you didn’t perform, and damages are nominal only. Teare J plumped for the second: nominals only.

This view is highly plausible and for the moment clearly represents the law. It also dovetails quite nicely with the general rule in cases such as The Golden Victory [2007] UKHL 12, [2007] 2 A.C. 353 and Bunge v Nidera [2015] UKSC 43, [2015] 2 CLC 120, that in assessing damages we take into account later events that would have taken away the right to demand performance.

But this case, or the issue in it, may go further. There is a respectable argument, that certainly can’t be dismissed summarily, which suggests a different answer. In so far as the inability to rely on a force majeure clause is due to a party’s own default, which was the case in Classic Maritime, should it be open to that party to argue that if he had acted differently he would have been able to invoke that very same clause? Suppose a force majeure clause requires notice to be given within 7 days after the force majeure event; a party prevented by force majeure nevertheless fails to give notice for 10 days, and thus loses the protection of the clause. Is it really open to the party then to say that if he had given the proper contractual 7 days notice he would have been protected by the clause, the counterparty would have had no right to demand performance, and hence damages are nominal only? I’m doubtful. And I’m equally not sure that this scenario is that different from what happened in Classic Maritime.  It’s just a thought. Whether it’s a good one, only time will tell.

Incorporation of Inter-Cub Agreement into time charter. Does it bring in the ICA’s security provisions?

 

If your charter incorporates the provisions of the Interclub NYPE Agreement 2011 don’t assume that everything in the agreement is brought into the charter. It all depends on the wording of incorporation, as owners found out in London Arbitration 18/18.   Owners sought counter-security from charterers pursuant to the provisions of cl.9 of the ICA 2011. Clause 35 of the time charter provided “…Liability for cargo claims, as between Charterers and Owners, shall be apportioned/settled as specified by the Interclub New York Produce Exchange Agreement effective from 1996 and its subsequent amendments  (Tribunal’s emphasis).”The Tribunal held that the incorporating words in the time charter brought into the charter only those parts of the ICA relating to apportionment and settlement.  The incorporating words did not bring in the ICA’s provision relating to security for claims.