US Supreme Court Rules- Warranty of Safety in Charterparties is an Absolute Obligation (Citgo Asphalt Refining Co v. Frescati Shipping Co Ltd)

The tanker, Athos I, was directed to a berth by her charterers at a terminal in Philadelphia in 2004. As the vessel was approaching the berth, she struck a submerged anchor. As a result, the vessel’s hull was damaged and some 263,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Delaware River. The cost of the clean-up operations was around US$180m.

The owners of the Athos I brought an action against the voyage charterer contenting that the charterer was in breach of its warranty to provide a safe port/safe berth for the ship to discharge the cargo and was therefore liable to reimburse the ship owner for the costs of the clean-up paid by them. The relevant provision in the charterparty provided:

‘…the vessel shall load and discharge at any safe place or wharf… which shall be designated and procured by the Charterer, provided the Vessel can proceed thereto, lie at, and depart therefrom always safely afloat, any lighterage being at the expense, risk and peril of the Charterer….’

safeport

The district court gave the judgment against the owners of the Athos I on the basis that the obligation of the charterer under the charterparty was to exercise due diligence in providing a safe berth/safe port and that was satisfied in the case. On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. In doing so, the Third Circuit aligned itself with the Second Circuit ignoring a case decided in 1990 by the Fifth Circuit (whereby it was held that a due diligence standard should be read into a charterer’s warranty of a safe berth/safe port).

The US Supreme Court (7-2) came to the conclusion that such a form clause commonly used in the industry must be construed as an express warranty of safety and imposes on the charterer an absolute duty to select and provide safe berth. The majority emphasized that the safe berth clause in the charterparty was clear and unambiguous.

The majority (an opinion delivered by Justice Sotomayor) rejected charterer’s that the safe berth clause imposes simply a duty to exercise due diligence. In their view, such a due diligence standard resonates more in tort, rather than contract. The parties could have adopted a due diligence standard explicitly in the safe berth clause, as they did elsewhere in the contract. The absence of similar language in the safe berth clause provides further evidence that the parties did not seek to imply such a limitation on the duty of the charterer.

The Supreme Court’s decision follows the traditional approach adopted by the English law with regard to warranty of safety of a port/berth (The Eastern City [1958] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 127) and will certainly be welcomed by the industry (i.e. shipowners) and, their hull underwriters who in most cases will end up pursuing charterers when a chartered vessel is damaged in a port/berth which turns out to be unsafe. It is worth to note that the judgment does not prevent this obligation from being watered down by a due diligence standard in a charterparty as long as clear and apposite wording is employed to this end.

Another cautionary time bar tale for owners. Do copies of bills of lading need to be submitted to support demurrage claims?

 

This was the question before Robin Knowles J in Tricon Energy Ltd v MTM Trading LLC [2020] EWHC 700 (Comm).  The MTM Hong Kong was voyage chartered on an amended Asbatankvoy form for a voyage from Antwerp to Houston. The most relevant provisions of the Charterparty were as follows:

By clause 10:

“Laytime/Demurrage

… …

(e) If load or discharge is done simultaneously with other parcels then laytime to be applied prorate between the parcels.

(g) In the event of Vessel being delayed in berthing and the Vessel has to load and / or discharge at the port(s) for the account of others, then such delay and/or waiting time and /or demurrage, if incurred, to be prorated according to the Bill of Lading quantities”.

 

By clause 12:

“Statement of Facts

Statement of facts must be signed by supplier or receiver, respectively. If they refuse to sign, the Master must issue a contemporaneous protest to them. Owner shall instruct each port agent to release port information to Charterer on request and to forward to Charterer the statement of facts and N.O.R. as soon as possible after Vessel has completed loading or discharge there”.

 

By clause 38:

“Time Bar Clause

Charterer shall be discharged and released from all liability in respect of any claim/invoice the Owner may have/send to Charterer under this Charter Party unless a claim/invoice in writing and all supporting documents have been received by Charterer within 90 days after completion of discharge of the cargo covered by this Charter Party or after other termination of the voyage, whichever occurs first. Any claim/invoice which Owner may have under this Charter Party shall be waived and absolutely barred, if claim/invoice and all supporting documents are not received by Charterer before the time bar”.

 

The owners made their claim and submitted supporting documentation within 90 days of completion of discharge, but did not include copies of the bills of lading.

 

The statement of facts provided did not accurately record the bill of lading quantities, at least insofar as the bill of lading for the Charterers’ parcel was concerned.

 

Permission to appeal was granted on the following question of law. “Where a charterparty requires demurrage to be calculated by reference to bill of lading quantities, and contains a demurrage time bar which requires provision of all supporting documents, will a claim for demurrage be time-barred if the vessel owner fails to provide copies of the bills of lading?”

 

The tribunal had found that copies of the bills of lading did not need to be submitted, and provision of the statement of facts was sufficient.

 

Robin Knowles J, however, found that copies of the bills of lading did need to be submitted. The Charterparty in the present case contains an express reference to “Bill of Lading quantities” in clause 10(g) in which it is made clear that “pro rating” means a division according to bill of lading quantities. Furthermore the Charterparty in the present case referred not simply to “supporting documentation” but “all” such documentation.

 

There was no evidence that the bills were unavailable to the Owners and if there were sensitive elements to the bill of lading, those could very easily be redacted and the redaction would not realistically include the quantities. If a bill of lading was not available then a proper explanation of that fact would need to be provided for the purposes of clause 38 alongside what was available.

 

Failure to submit the third-party bill barred the claim in its entirety of her claim and not just that part of the claim attributable to delays in berthing. However, the clause here referred to a claim/invoice as a single item and did not (in contrast to the clause in The Adventure) refer to “constituent part[s]” of a claim for demurrage.

Switch bills. Initial shipper off the hook for freight due under bill of lading.

 

The effect of switch bills with a new shipper in the second set has the effect of a novation of the initial contract contained or evidenced in the initial bill with the shipowner as carrier under the bill. So held Stevenson J in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in The Illawarra Fortune [2020] NSWSC 183. Both sets incorporated the freight payable under a voyage charterparty with the time charterer of the vessel. The initial shipper, whose parent company was the voyage charterer, ceased to be liable for unpaid freight once the second bills were issued naming a different shipper. Had the original bills not been switched the time charterer, as assignee of the shipowner’s rights under the bills of lading,  would have been able to sue the original shipper for freight due under the voyage charter with the shipper’s parent company.

When does time start to run for an indemnity claim?

 

 

In London Arbitration 1/20 owners claimed an indemnity from voyage charterers in respect of payment of funds by their P&I Club to satisfy a judgment on a cargo claim brought against them in Brazil. The owners’ claim was brought under an express indemnity provision in the charterparty, clause 10, which read:

“Bills of Lading shall be presented and signed by the Master as per the ‘Congenbill’ Bill of Lading form, Edition 1994, without prejudice to this Charter Party, or by the Owners’ agents provided written authority has been given by Owners to the agents, a copy of which is to be furnished to the Charterers. The Charterers shall indemnify the Owners against all consequences or liabilities that may arise from the signing of bills of lading as presented to the extent that the terms or contents of such bills of lading impose or result in the imposition of more onerous liabilities upon the Owners than those assumed by the Owners under this Charter Party.”

The relevant time line was that discharge took place in 2006, with a first instance decision in the Brazilian courts in August 2010 which held owners liable. In September 2017 this was upheld on appeal and in October 2017 funds were remitted to cargo interests to satisfy the judgment. Owners commenced arbitration proceedings against charterers in August 2018.

There were various competing dates for starting the firing gun for the running of the six years under the Limitation Act 1980. If time started when the claim arose, or after the first instance judgment, then owners’ arbitration would be clearly barred. However, if the relevant time were that of the appeal decision or the payment of the judgment soon after, then owners would be in time.

The tribunal, by a majority, declined to follow the decision of McNair J in Bosma v Larsen [1966] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 22 in which McNairJ held that the cause of action under clause 9 of the Baltime form arose at the date when the facts came into existence which created a liability of the owners to the cargo owners or their insurers. That date was the date when the cargo was discharged damaged. The case had not been overruled but had not been followed on two subsequent occasions at first instance, in particular in The Caroline P [1984] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 466, where Neill J said:

“I have therefore come to the conclusion, though not without hesitation, that the … indemnity … did not become enforceable by action until at the earliest the liability of the owners to the receivers had been ascertained by the court of first instance …”

In the majority’s view, Neill J was saying that he preferred to run time from the date of the court adjudication at the earliest rather than from the time of discharge. In their view time started running when owners paid the judgment in favour of cargo interests sometime between 27 September and 6 October 2017.

No indemnity for loading of damaged goods when clean bill of lading issued.

 

 

There is no right to an indemnity to be implied into a voyage charter in relation to the accuracy of a statement in the draft bill presented to the master that the good are loaded clean on board, in the event that they turn out to be pre-damaged. The Tai Prize  [2020] EWHC 127 (Comm) involved a cargo claim under the bill of lading for which the shipowner received 50% contribution from the disponent owner who then sought to recover that sum from the voyage charterer under a charter which incorporated the Hague Rules.

The shipper presented a draft bill of lading to the shipowner at the loading port which described the cargo, under the heading “Shipper’s description of Goods”,  as being “63,366.150 metric tons Brazilian Soyabeans Clean on Board Freight pre-paid”. The bill of lading that was issued noted that the cargo was loaded in apparent good order and condition. On discharge charred cargo was found in two of the vessel’s holds and discharge was suspended. The remaining cargo was discharged without complaint and the cargo in the affected holds was discharged but the receiver maintained that the cargo in those holds had suffered heat and mould damage. The disponent owner commenced arbitrationto recover from the voyage charterer the contribution paid to the owner. The arbitrator found that the cargo had been loaded in a pre-damaged condition and the shipper as agent for the voyage charterer had impliedly warranted the accuracy of any statement as to condition contained in the bill of lading and had impliedly agreed to indemnify the defendant against the consequences of inaccuracy of the statement

HHJ Pelling QC found that

(1) By presenting the draft bill of lading for signature by or on behalf of the master, in relation to the statement concerning apparent good order and condition, the shipper was doing no more than inviting the master to make a representation of fact in accordance with his own assessment of the apparent condition of the cargo.

(2) The bill of lading was not inaccurate as a matter of law because the master did not and could not reasonably have discovered the relevant defects because they were not reasonably visible to him or any other agent of the claimant at or during shipment.

(3) No guarantee or warranty was to be implied into the voyage charter. It would be wrong in principle to imply into the contract a provision making the claimant liable to indemnify the defendant, when the drafters of the Hague Rules,which were incorporated into the voyage charter,  could have but decided not to provide expressly for such a provision in relation to statements by the shipper as to the apparent order and condition of the cargo. Under Art. III, Rule 5 a warranty is deemed to have been supplied by the shipper to the carrier in respect of the information “… furnished in writing by the shipper” pursuant to HR, Art. III, Rule 3, which relates to the “… leading marks necessary for identification of the goods …” and “… the number of packages or pieces or the quantity or weight …” However,  there is no such guarantee deemed to be given in respect of the apparent order and condition of the goods , This information in the bill is exclusively an assessment by the carrier.

The Judge concluded:

 

[35] The Arbitrator’s concern that the defendant would be left without recourse was misplaced because its liability did not and could not arise as a result of the wrongs of anyone on the charterer’s “… side of the line” because its liability to the Shipowner was the result of its decision to pay the Shipowner rather than defend the claim by reference to the true condition of the goods. There is nothing unfair, unjust, uncommercial or unconscionable about an outcome that leaves ultimate liability with the defendant because there was no misrepresentation, no evidence or finding that the Master had acted on the alleged misrepresentation rather than, or even as well as, attempting to and/or being unable reasonably to verify the condition of the goods before his agents signed the B/L and because it decided to pay the Shipowner.

 

Exceptions to the Running of Laytime- “Wording” is the Key (Bad Weather?)- London Arbitration 21/19

Ship1

In commercial contracts, exclusion clauses are often construed narrowly. In the context of voyage charterparties, this could create significant difficulties for charterers who attempt to rely on an exclusion clause to stop the running of laytime or demurrage.

In the contract in question, it was expressly stipulated that … if … loading… [was] … suspended: [a] due to bad weather (including… storms, high winds…) or [b] for other reasons not attributable to charterers or their shippers/receivers, laytime and demurrage would not count.

At the port of loading, the laytime period started on 25 August. A tropical storm was approaching to the loading port but loading continued and the terminal indicated at 13.00 hours on 26 August that there was no present intention to shut-down due to the fact that the approaching hurricane’s land fall remained uncertain. However, at 15.30 hours on the same day, the terminal stopped loading and the vessel was advised to leave for anchorage. The terminal informed the vessel that they had no alternative but to vacate the vessel as weather conditions would make anchorages scarce and they had to consider the safety of their docks, fleet and terminal. The port remained closed for the next few days and on 29 August the vessel re-berthed and completed loading. The main legal issue was whether laytime stopped when the vessel was ordered off the berth.

It was held that the laytime was not suspended when the vessel left the berth on 26 August as for laytime to be suspended under a clause of this nature it was necessary to show that time was lost due to bad weather. The tribunal observed that it was impossible to calibrate the imminence and nature of bad weather when the vessel sailed away on 26 August but was adamant that the facts did not suggest that loading as suspended due to bad weather. What led tribunal to this conclusion was the fact that the hurricane was still at least 2 days away and there was no immediate danger to shipping. The terminal’s decision to close the facility was based on its desire to ensure the safety of its barges and there was also concern that vessels would find it difficult to find anchorages if they stayed any longer in the terminal.

However, the charterers managed to convince the tribunal that the running of laytime was suspended for “reasons not attributable to charterers or their shippers/receivers”. They got the decision of the tribunal in their favour on this point as they successfully argued that they had no connection with the terminal so the actions of the terminal were not attributable to them. It was stressed by the tribunal that shippers and the terminal were separate legal entities with no agency relationship.

The first part of the decision is in line with the precedent set in a number of authorities most notably Compania Crystal de Vapores v. Herman [1958] 2 QB 196 where the chartered vessel ordered from the berth by harbour master due to threat of bad weather. There, it was held that time lost as a result of measures taken for safety of the ship as a result of bad weather does not count. It is vital that bad weather should potentially prevent the loading/discharge. Therefore, to suspend the running of laytime in a case like this, charterers would need to show that the relevant clause refers not only to “bad weather” but also to “steps taken due to bad weather”. The finding on the second part of the clause was fact based and the decision went in favour of the charterer as the owner failed to show that there was any organic relationship between the charterers/shippers and the terminal. However, it is evident that the wording adopted makes this a very broad exception and could potentially provide relief to charters in most instances.

Demurrage time bar. Do documents and claim have to come together?

 

Following a recent decision on a time charter time bar clause, we now have another time bar decision, this time by Peter MacDonald Eggers QC, in The Amelie Essberger [2019] EWHC 3402 (Comm). The vessel was chartered on amended Asbatankvoy form for a voyage from Rotterdam to Castellon in Spain. At Castellon the receiver refused to accept delivery of part of the cargo carried in one of the vessel’s tanks (tank 5S), because that cargo was contaminated with mono ethylene glycol. After discharge of the remainder of the cargo at Castellon the vessel then shifted to an anchorage off Castellon, remaining there for nine days before sailing to Valencia for discharge of the cargo in tank 5S.

The charter contained a demurrage time bar clause in the rider.

5) TIME BAR

Any claim for demurrage, deadfreight, shifting expenses or other charges or invoices shall be considered waived unless received by the Charterer or Charterer’s broker in writing with all supporting calculations and documents, within sixty (60) 90 days after completion of discharge of the last parcel of Charterer’s cargo (es). Demurrage, if any, must be submitted in a single claim at that time, and the claim must be supported by the following documents:

  1. Vessel and/or terminal time logs; B. Notices of Readiness; C. Pumping Logs; and D. Letters of Protest …

The Charterers applied for summary judgment pursuant to CPR rule 24.2 on the ground that the Owners had no real prospect of succeeding in their claim for demurrage because of the time bar defence. The demurrage claim was submitted in time but did not include two of the specified documents – (a) the Vessel’s pumping log at Rotterdam and (b) a letter of protest issued by the Master of the Vessel dated 30th November 2017, noting that the Charterers’ and the shippers’ surveyor had not supplied the Vessel with sealed samples of the cargo upon completion of loading. Owners had already provided the charterers with these documents before submitting their demurrage claim.

The Judge was inclined to adopt either a construction of the time-bar clause that requires the Owners to submit documents on which they relied in support of their demurrage claim or one that required the submission of documents which taken at face value established the validity of the demurrage claim. The clause required the submission of “all” such supporting documents. Furthermore, the four listed documents had to be supplied whether or not the listed documents might be said to be “supporting documents”  as this was clear from the mandatory language of the second sentence (“must be supported”).

However, there was no express requirement that the supporting documents must be provided at one time and at the same time as the demurrage claim. The word “Demurrage” at the beginning of the second sentence was to be construed as a reference to the demurrage claimed and not as a reference to the demurrage claim and supporting documents The requirement that the demurrage claim “with” all supporting documentation must be received by the Charterers within 90 days after the completion of discharge meant no more than that the claim and supporting documents must be received before the expiry of the 90 day period. The reference to a “single claim” means that only one claim may be submitted. In other words, separate demurrage claims, for example at loadport or at each discharge port, were not permitted.  The commercial purpose of Clause 5 did not require the simultaneous submission of the demurrage claim and the supporting documents, but merely the submission of the claim and the supporting documents before the end of the 90 day period.

Accordingly, the claim was not time barred. Had supporting documents not been supplied to charterers within 90 days, the entire demurrage claim would have been barred and not just that part to which those documents related. The clause did not provide that only a part of the demurrage claim will be waived if anything less than “all supporting … documents” are provided and contemplated only a “single claim”. However, the Judge could see the sense of “an approach that if there are two parts of the demurrage claim which are unrelated and if a supporting document is relevant for one part of the demurrage claim, but not the other, there is no pressing reason why the unaffected part of the claim should be time-barred [62].”

 

 

New year, new sulphur cap.

The Sulphur cap is here. If you’re a shipowner still running on High Sulphur Fuel Oil (HSFO) you need to trust to your Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report (FONAR), unless you are fitted with scrubbers. If you’re running on Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (LSFO) now you still need to get any HSFO off your vessel by 1 March 2020 due to the Carriage Ban. Apart from increasing the cost of running a vessel, the IMO’s two regulation are likely to see various additional costs being incurred by shipowners: costs of disposal of remaining onboard HSFO including costs of tank and line cleaning to avoid residual HSFO mingling with LSFO and pushing the Sulphur level over 0.5%; time lost in performing such operations; effect of LSFO on owners’ performance warranties under time charters; fines and detention due to inability to get remaining HSFO off the vessel by 1.3.2020 (there is no equivalent of a FONAR to cover this eventuality). A report from S&P Global Platts last week reveals that a lot of debunkering is going to have take place between now and 1.3.2020. https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/shipping/122719-shipowners-rush-to-de-bunker-hsfo-as-imo-2020-looms

Added to that there is the greater risk of engine damage due to use of LSFO. Today Reuters carries a report that testing companies examining newer, low-sulphur marine blends acquired in Antwerp, Belgium, Houston and Singapore have found sediment at levels that could damage the engines of ocean-going vessels. Depressing news with which to welcome in the new year. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-shipping-imo-fueloil/tests-raise-alarms-over-fuel-blends-coming-for-ocean-going-vessels-idUKKBN1YZ1ED

It is likely that the new decade will see a spate of claims arising out of the sulphur cap and the carriage ban, particularly under time charters, with renewed interest by owners in the indemnity as a means of clawing back costs from time charterers.

“All supporting documents” in time charter time bar clause means what it says.

 

Mur Shipping BV v Louis Dreyfus Company Suisse SA [2019] EWHC 3240 (The Tiger Shanghai) concerned the construction of the following time bar in additional clause 119 of a time charter on NYPE form.

“[Owners] shall be discharged and released from all liability in respect of any claim or claims which [Charterers] may have under Charter Party and such claims shall be totally extinguished unless such claims have been notified in detail to [Owners] in writing accompanied by all available supporting documents (whether relating to liability or quantum or both) and arbitrator appointed within 12 months from completion of charter”.”

The charter was terminated due to a problem with the feeder holes in the hatch covers which were positioned so that the loading crane at the loading port, Carbenaros, was not quite long enough to reach those on the starboard side of the Vessels. To solve this problem the Charterers wanted to cut new cement feeder holes into the hatch covers. Disponent owners refused permission for the work to be done. Shortly after the vessel arrived at the load port, a survey was conducted at charterer’s request by CSS on the cutting of new cement holes in the hatch covers. The following day disponent owners stated that their refusal was final and non-negotiable and  charterers terminated the charter.

The express basis for that termination was that the cutting of additional feeder holes fell within the ambit of Clause 46 which provided “The Charterers, subject to the Owners’ and Master’s approval which is not to be unreasonably withheld, shall be at liberty to fit/weld any additional equipment and fittings for loading … cargo. Such work shall be done at the Charterer’s expense and time, and the Charterers shall remove such equipment and fittings at their expense and time prior to redelivery, if so required by the Owners …” Charterers argued that Owners’ refusal for permission to cut such holes had been unreasonably withheld, so that Owners were in repudiatory breach and Charterers were entitled to terminate.

Charterers appointed their arbitrator within 12 months of the termination of the charter and claimed in respect of “all disputes connected with the Charterparty” which was stated to include claims for:

  1. i) The return of hire and value of delivery bunkers paid in advance,
  2. ii) costs incurred on the Owners’ behalf;

iii) damages in respect of claim from the sub Charters for the termination of the Charter; and

  1. iv) the Owners’ failure to obey instructions/ breach of Clause 46 of the Charter.

Nearly a year later charterers served claim submissions to which was attached the CSS Report dealing with the feasibility of drilling cement holes in the hatch covers, and relied on it to allege that disponent owners had unreasonably withheld consent to the works

The submission of the CSS report led disponent owners to take the timebar point, arguing that it went to the heart of the issue of liability and that had it been presented it was likely that the parties could have resolved the dispute without the need for arbitration. Charterers argued that the CSS Report was a document compiled for the purposes of the arbitration in the light of the dispute and that expert reports and other arbitration documents fell outside the category of “supporting documents” that are to be provided and Clause 119

The majority of the Tribunal found that this document was a “supporting document”, that it was not privileged; and that the claim was consequently time barred. On appeal two issues arose.

i) Is a document which would otherwise be a supporting document one which should not be counted as such if it was arguably privileged?

This point concerned arguably privileged documents as opposed to actually privileged documents. This was because: (i) Charterers accepted that the document was not privileged and (ii) Owners are prepared to proceed on the assumption that the clause does not require provision of a privileged document. Charterers submitted that if a document is reasonably arguable to be privileged, then its disclosure is not required by an “all supporting documents” time bar clause and it does not matter even if, in the final analysis, it is held not to be privileged. Cockerill J rejected this submission as the argument was “profoundly uncommercial”. Such an approach would sit very ill with the requirements of certainty which underpin clauses of this sort

ii) Is a document which is not at least at the time of commencement of the arbitration of relevance to either the identification of or support for a relevant claim as referred to arbitration, a “supporting document”.

Cockerill J held that the CSS report was a supporting document and it could not be the case that simply because a document emerges later it cannot give rise to a time bar argument. An “all documents” clause is naturally geared to the provision of more than the bare essentials; and even in the simpler cases it may be the case that the party receiving the documents may not know the full extent of the documentation available.

The question of “supporting documents” had to look to the claim being advanced. If for some reason the claim somehow changed in essence at a later stage, for example, if a timing point not previously apprehended was made, or a correction needed to be made, this should not mean that documents later relied on became retrospectively relevant at the point of the time bar. However, here, there was no change in the case or correction. Charterers’ claim was predicated on the refusal by disponent owners having been wrongful, because unreasonable. Without that, the termination was not valid. The material in the CSS Report went to this question of reasonableness.

If the reasonableness of the refusal was in play at the time when the claim was made, this document was relevant and supportive. It was significant that the clause combined both specific reference to “all” and specific reference to “liability and quantum”, while not confining itself to any particular sort of claim. The parties intended the clause to cover all disputes under the Charterparty, including inferentially claims arising out of wrongful termination. While the case had not refined itself so far as it had done at the time of the hearing, the claim (at least as to quantum) in fact depended on the date of termination and the date of termination depended on being entitled to terminate, which itself depended on unreasonable refusal on the part of the Owners. Therefore, the report was on its face within the ambit of the claim that charterers advanced and supportive of it.

The appeal against the Award was therefore dismissed.

BIMCO withdrawal clause. No withdrawal for underpayment of previous hire instalment.  

 

Quiana Navigation SA v Pacific Gulf Shipping (Singapore) PTE Ltd “Caravos Liberty” [2019] EWHC 3171 (Comm) involved  a time charter under which the charterers made an underpayment of the fourth instalment of hire but owners did not exercise their right to withdraw under the BIMCO withdrawal clause incorporated into the time charter. However, the shortfall remained and at the time of the sixth instalment, which was paid in full, the owners decided to withdraw the vessel on account of the remaining shortfall in hire under the fourth instalment. The key words in the BIMCO Clause are “If the hire is not received by the Owners by midnight on the due date, the Owners may immediately following such non-payment suspend the performance of any or all of their obligations under this Charter Party (and if they so suspend, inform the Charterers accordingly) until such time as the payment due is received by the Owners.” In the context of the right to withdraw, what constitutes ‘the hire’? The tribunal found that it referred to the hire for that particular instalment and did not encompass previous underpayments. Cockerill J upheld that decision. The question “What is the hire?” question could only sensibly be answered and one single date produced if the charterers’ approach were preferred.  Cockerill J stated [42]:

“[i]t is artificial to ignore the temporal dimension inherent in the reference to a “due date” in (a); and equally artificial to say that the sum outstanding from the fourth instalment was due “on” 10 August. Owners’ argument also, either (as Charterers would put it) impermissibly elides the very real distinction between the continuing entitlement to recover hire as a debt and on the other the independent contractual entitlement to withdraw or at least attempts to draw focus from the existence of other remedies.”

Accordingly, owners’ withdrawal was unjustified and amounted to a repudiation of the charter.