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.

Charter time bar not read  into charterers’ letter of indemnity.

 

In Navig8 Chemicals Pool Inc v. Glencore Agriculture BV (The Songa Winds) [2018] EWCA Civ 1901, the Court of Appeal had to consider whether a time bar clause in a voyage charter operated to bar claims under a letter of indemnity issued by charterers to owners in respect of delivery of cargo without production of bills of lading. Clause 38  of the charter required the owners to release the cargo  against charterers’ letter of indemnity  (LOI) if bills of lading were not available at the discharge port and the period of validity of any letter of indemnity was to be three months from date of issue. The LOI provided by charterers did not refer to any time bar and provided in clause 5 “. As soon as all original bills of lading for the above cargo shall have come into our possession, to deliver the same to you, or otherwise cause all original bills of lading to be delivered to you, whereupon our liability hereunder shall cease.”

Two points arose. Was the LOI provided by charterers subject to the three month time bar provided in the charterparty? If so, how did that time bar run?  Andrew Baker J, [2018] EWHC 397 (Comm) ,had found that the LOI was not subject to the time bar, and that the effect of the time bar was that the period within which the requested delivery of the cargo must take place was three months from the date of delivery.

The Court of Appeal has upheld the first finding. Charterers had the contractual right to insist that the LOI incorporated the terms set out in cl.38 but they had failed to do so. Clause 5 of the  LOIs was a self-contained provision which confines charterers’ liability, and which containeds no reference to any extraneous term which might impact on the time limit of that liability.Their LOIs were distinct agreements to the voyage charter, setting out self-contained obligations and rights which could be relied on by third parties, such as owners’ agents, as against charterers.

On the second point, however, the Court of Appeal rejected the judge’s construction  of cl. 38 and found that cl.38 meant that there was a time limit of three months for making claims.

Demurrage time bar and submission of documents. Fault of owners and consequential loss of time.

 

When dealing with a demurrage time bar clause in your charter, it pays for owners to know who charterers’ agents are, as shown by London Arbitration 19/18. Owners chartered two vessels under a contract of affreightment for a series of voyages. The charters provided for the demurrage claim and supporting documents for each voyage to be sent by owners to charterers within 30 days starting from next day after discharging at discharging port. Failure to supply the documents within this period would free charterers from any responsibility for demurrage. The charter also provided that owners were to pay commission on F/D/D to a firm of brokers, D.

Charterers declined to pay demurrage accruing on eight voyages as they had not received the documentation within the 30 days. Owners claimed that they had passed the documentation to D within the 30 days and that D were charterers’ agents. The tribunal found that D were an intermediate broker who had no principals and who could look to either charterers or owners for their commission. The charter had included a specific provision to cover their commission, making owners responsible for it. D’s duty was simply to pass messages up and down the chartering chain. There was no evidence that charterers held D out as their broker and they were clearly not charterers’ actual broker. Receipt of documents by D did not amount to receipt by charterers or their agents.

The tribunal rejected owners’ argument that D had ostensible authority to act as charterers’ agents. The fact that the charterers had paid all freight claims and many of the demurrage claims which were sent by the owners to D alone did not amount to a representation on the charterers’ part that D had authority to accept all demurrage claims under the charter on their behalf as their agent. Those claims were paid, not because they were received by D, but because they were passed by D to C and it was receipt by the latter that triggered payment by charterers. Nor was there any estoppel, either by convention or promissory. The parties proceeded on the basis that charterers would pay all demurrage claims received from D within the 30 day period. The fact that charterers had paid a demurrage claim presented out of time on one voyage out of the 87 performed did not amount to a waiver of their right to rely on the time bar clause.

The tribunal also rejected charterers’ claim on another voyage to suspend laytime for consequential delay on arrival at the discharge port because of a delay on completion of loading of nine days due to engine problems. For culpable fault resulting in time not counting, the fault and the delay had to be co-extensive.

Management of the vessel, or management of cargo? Effect of s4. of US COGSA on charterers’ claim for costs of unnecessary strapping required by master.

Clearlake Shipping Pte Ltd v Privocean Shipping Ltd (15 May 2018. QB D (Com Ct) is an unreported decision of Cockerill J on the effect of cl.2 of NYPE 1946 form and s.4(2)(a) of US COGSA 1936 which is applied as a paramount clause. Charterers incurred extra expenses due to unnecessary strapping insisted on by the master with a view to the ship’s stability. The master insisted on the strapping in order to ensure the stability of the vessel. In the arbitration the charterer produced expert evidence that the cargo strapping had been unnecessary and that adequate stability could have been achieved by distributing the cargo differently or by ballasting. The arbitrators found that the master had been negligent and in breach of cl. 8. However, they rejected charterer’s contention that the cost of strapping was for owner’s account by virtue of cl.2 of the charter which provided that “Charterers are to provide necessary dunnage and shifting boards, also any extra fittings requisite for a special trade or unusual cargo…”  The shipowners, though, had a defence to the claim under s.4(2) of the incorporated US COGSA 1936, since the neglect or default of the master was “in the management of the ship”.

On appeal Cockerill J upheld both findings.(i)  Clause 2 said nothing about the position where the charterer had paid for a fitting that turned out to have been unnecessary. (ii) The master’s default was in the management of the ship and owners had a defence under s.4(2) of the incorporated US COGSA 1936. The master’s breach was not any lack of care for the cargo during loading or discharge. His intervention came before loading. Since his action in requiring the cargo to be strapped was directed at the safety of the ship it was an act in the management of the vessel within the s.4(2) exemption. It was also clear that safe stowage without strapping could have been achieved by ballasting, and the same result should be reached whether the issue was one of different distribution of the cargo or of ballasting. Ballasting would be a matter in the management of the vessel and it followed that for that reason also the exemption from liability applied.

The case provides a salutary reminder to time charterers that they may be getting more than they bargained for with a clause paramount. The US COGSA exceptions in s4(2) and the Hague Rules exceptions in art IV(2), are not limited to breaches in respect of the activities listed in s2/art II. As stated by Robert Goff LJ in The Satya Kailash [1984] 1  Lloyd’s Rep 588, 596.

[o]n the approach of the majority of the House of Lords in the Adamastos case, even such general words of incorporation can be effective to give an owner the protection of the statutory immunities in respect not merely of those matters specified in s. 2, but also of other contractual activities performed by him under the charter.”

 

Assignee’s right to damages for cargo claim. Title to sue is not the whole story.

 

In making a cargo claim, a party’s title to sue is separate to the question of whether it has suffered loss and is thus entitled to substantial damages. The issue arose in The Fehn Heaven [2018] EWHC 1606 (Comm) where charterers loaded a cargo of organic sunflower seeds and organic wheat, carried under two straight bills of lading which named Justorganic, as consignee. At some stage in the voyage the cargo had to be fumigated and as a consequence it could no longer be sold as organic. Charterers had to discount the price to their two Dutch buyers and sought to recover the amount of the discounts from the shipowner. They claimed in arbitration against the shipowner either as assignees of the consignee’s rights under the bills of lading or in their own right under the charterparty.

The tribunal awarded the charterers damages and found that charterers had title to sue, as assignee of the consignee’s rights under the bill of lading. However, the tribunal  made no express finding that Justorganic, the assignor, had suffered loss. This was a critical absence in the award because of the principle that an assignee could not recover more from the debtor than the assignor could have done had there been no assignment.(Chitty on Contracts (32nd edition at paragraph 19-075). The award could not be upheld on the alternative basis of charterers’ claim, that they had a right to recover their losses under the charterparty, as it was clear that the tribunal had decided that charterers’  title to sue was based on the assignment rather than on the charterparty. Owners’ appeal, therefore, succeeded and the matter was remitted to the tribunal.

Stuck in the middle with you.  Back to back time bar clauses in chain of charters.

 

 

P v Q, Q v R, R v S [2018] EWHC 1399 (Comm) involved three voyage charters in the middle of a lengthy chain, between P and Q, Q and R, and R and S. Each contained the same time bar clause barring all claims if arbitration was not commenced within thirteen months of final discharge. Final discharge was on 16 October 2015 and  in September 2016 cargo claims were made against the owners and duly passed down the chain. On 16 November 2016 after their office had closed, P received notification of the appointment of an arbitrator by their disponent owner, Sinochart. By the time they became aware of this on 17 November, the thirteen month time limit in their charter with Q had expired.  P notified Q and appointed an arbitrator on 30 November. Q then contacted R and appointed  their arbitrator on 17 November, with R doing likewise to S, appointing their arbitrator on 1 December.

The notices of arbitration down the three charter chain from P to S were all out of time. However, P argued there had to be an implicit limitation on the literal meaning of the arbitration clause C so that the time bar would not apply where it was impossible for a claim to be passed on within the stipulated time because the recipient of a notice of claim was unaware of the claim or receipt of a notice thereof, or where, at the expiration of the time limit, no dispute existed that could be made the subject of a commencement of arbitration.  A similar argument had been raised, and rejected, in  The Himmerland [1965] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 353 and in The Stephanos [1989] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 506  in which it had been held that the three month Centrocon arbitration clause should be given a literal construction, so that claims or disputes that had not even arisen within the stipulated period were nonetheless time-barred. Sir Richard Field, acting as a judge of the High Court, did likewise, noting that the words in the arbitration clauses were clear and ambiguous and should be given the same construction as was given in the Centrocon cases.

Time could be extended under s.12 of the Arbitration Act 1996 if it were just, but the applicant would need to have acted expeditiously and in a commercially appropriate fashion to commence proceedings once it became aware that a claim was being made against the applicant under the charterparty above or below in the chain.  Q had done so by appointing their arbitrator on 17 November, and were granted an  extension but this was not the case with P who had appointed  their arbitrator on 25 November, nor with R who had appointed their arbitrator on 1 December.

 

 

BIMCO Piracy Clause (2009) and duty to proceed with due despatch

 

 

In London Arbitration 13/18 the vessel was time chartered under a charter on NYPE form which incorporated the BIMCO Piracy Clause for Time Charter Parties (March 2009). This provides:.

(c) If the Owners consent or if the Vessel proceeds to or through an area exposed to risk of piracy the Owners shall have the liberty:

(i) to take reasonable preventive measures to protect the vessel, her crew and cargo including but not limited to taking a reasonable alternative route, proceeding in convoy, using escorts, avoiding day or night navigation, adjusting speed or course, or engaging security personnel or equipment on or about the vessel,

 

Owners employed armed guards and purchased additional security equipment when proceeding through an area exposed to risk of piracy, in this case the Gulf of Aden. Charterers contended that the options in paragraph (c)(ii) of the Piracy Clause were disjunctive so that owners could not recover both costs. The Tribunal disagreed and held that the clause made it clear that the owners were not so limited and could recover both costs. However, owners’ liberty to take ‘reasonable preventive measures’ did not justify their decision to proceed via a route which skirted the border of the high risk area, and constituted a breach of their obligation under cl. 8 to prosecute voyages with due despatch. The vessel employed armed guards for the fourth voyage and had installed a new set of protective materials and had the maximum level of security measures as set out under Best Management Practices 4 for Gulf of Aden Transits, Somalia Transits and Indian Ocean Transits. It was unreasonable to route the vessel in such a way that there would be no chance of interference from pirates and the owners were in breach of cl.8 for which the charterers were awarded damages in hire and fuel costs.

 

A further issue arose as to owners’ right to claim crew war bonuses from charterers. Clause 57 provided that when trading in the Gulf of Aden the crew war bonus if any was to be for charterers’ account. Owners claimed that the only condition was that the war bonus must actually have been paid to the crew. However, the Tribunal pointed to the BIMCO Piracy Clause which provided:

(d) Costs…

(ii) If the Owners become liable under the terms of employment to pay to the crew any bonus or additional wages in respect of sailing into an area which is dangerous in the manner defined by the said terms, then the actual bonus or additional wages paid shall be reimbursed to the owners by the charterers at the same time as the next payment of hire is due, or upon redelivery, whichever occurs first.

 

To be recoverable from charterers any bonus had to be one which owners were obliged to pay under the crew’s terms of employment. Here, the relevant terms provided that a bonus for transit of the Extended Risk Zone would be paid only if the vessel were attacked, which had not been the case. Accordingly, owners were not entitled to recover from charterers the bonus they had paid to the crew.

 

 

 

Meaning of ‘similar amendment’ in cl.8(b) of 1996 Inter-Club Agreement

Agile  Holdings Corporation v Essar Shipping Ltd [2018] EWHC 1055 (Comm) is a recent decision on the meaning of “similar amendment” in cl.8(b) of the 1996 Inter-Club Agreement (‘ICA’), in favour of the claimant shipowners, represented by IISTL’s Simon Rainey QC.

The “Maria” was time chartered for a single trip from Tunisia to India via Trinidad, carrying a consignment of direct reduced iron (“DRI”) which is  highly reactive and combustible in the presence of heat or water. During loading the cargo onto the vessel by means of a conveyor belt at Port Lisas, Trinidad, the belt was seen to have caught fire, but the appointed supercargo inspected the holds and advised that loading could continue. The cargo was still on fire during the voyage and cargo interests, an associated company of the charterers, brought a claim against the shipowners. In turn, they claimed a 100% indemnity from the charterers under the Inter-Club Agreement 1996 which was incorporated into the charter. The charter was on NYPE 1946 form, with an unamended cl.8, so under cl.8(b) of the ICA owners would be entitled to a 100% indemnity in respect of claims “in fact arising out of the loading, stowage, lashing, discharge, storage or other handling of cargo”.

The clause contains the proviso “ unless [1]  the words “and responsibility” are added in clause 8 [of the NYPE form]” to which the 1996 form added the words  “or there is a similar amendment making the Master responsible for cargo handling”, in which case a 50/50 split applies. Charterers pointed to cl.49 which provided “The Stevedores although appointed and paid by Charterers/Shippers/Receivers and or their Agents, to remain under the direction of the Master who will be responsible for proper stowage and seaworthiness and safety of the vessel…” and argued that this constituted a ‘similar amendment’. Charterers argued that  this would transfer back responsibility to the owners that aspect of cargo handling which was in fact in issue in the particular case. His Honour Judge Waksman QC rejected this, and held the required “similar amendment” must be one which would have the same effect as the addition of the words “any responsibility” and therefore, connotes the transfer of all aspects of cargo handling generally back to the Owner. He went on to observe that Clause 49 only transferred back responsibility for stowage, and probably only stowage affecting the seaworthiness or safety of the vessel. A transfer back of stowage only did not connote any transfer back of other cargo handling responsibilities.