Performance Warranties in Charterparties- “Good Weather” Qualification Again!  

Eastern Pacific Chartering inc v. Pola Maritime Ltd (The Divinegate) [2022] EWHC 2095 (Comm)

The Divinegate was trip chartered on an amended NYPE 1946 form with additional clauses for a carriage of pig iron from Riga via the Baltic Sea to the Mississippi River in the United States. Following discharge of the cargo, the owners sought unpaid hire, bunkers and expenses totalling US$ 99,982.79 and the charterers sought deductions from hire of US$ 93,074.55 for the failure to proceed with utmost despatch on the voyage and hull fouling. The charterers also made a counterclaim for US$ 72, 629.01 as damages in tort on grounds of the owners’ allegedly wrongful arrest of the vessel, The Polo Devora, of which charterers believed to be the beneficial owner. The wrongful arrest counterclaim failed and will not be discussed here.

The charterparty contained a performance warranty to the effect that “Speed and consumption basis no adverse currents and valid up and including Douglas Sea State 3/ Beaufort Force 4.”

The essence of the litigation was the assessment of the chartered vessel’s performance to determine whether there was, in fact, a failure to proceed with utmost despatch on the voyage. The owners contended that the performance of the vessel should be assessed in a conventional way, i.e. by reference to the vessel’s speed during “good weather”. The charterers, on the other hand, suggested that underperformance could be established by reference to the vessel’s measured RPM (revolution per minute) which reflects the engine speed maintained by the crew.   

The Judgment and Lessons for the Future          

Ms Clare Ambrose, sitting as a High Court Deputy Judge, made significant observations on the state of law in this area and reached interesting conclusions which are likely to inform the judges and arbitrators who are often called in to deal with performance related claims in the context of time (and trip) charters.

  1. It was stressed that traditional way of establishing breach and loss in performance claims is the “good weather” method and in instances where the parties have adopted such a formulation in their contracts (which was the case here) this will be the primary method of assessment used by the court.

2. The judge also appreciated that this is not the only available methodology for making calculations and there is no bar for alternative methods being used to measure vessel’s performance. However, any alternative method must be consistent with the express wording contained in the charterparty and must also be established as “reliable”. On the facts of this case, the RPM method was not found to be reliable in identifying loss of time as it made incorrect assumptions as to the resistance on the hull and made no allowance for weather conditions being a reason for a reduction in engine speed, as well as ignoring the fact that there were periods the vessel could not achieve the warranted speed due to other factors, e.g. currents.

Therefore, the judge left it open to parties to argue that alternative methods (especially in the light of emerging technologies) could be used to assess a chartered vessel’s performance but strongly hinted that so far no satisfactory method has been put forward to sway judges/arbitrators away from the traditional method and legal principles that have been developed for years. Referring to the “good weather” method, Ms Ambrose said (at [90]):

The approach adopted in the authorities reflects commercial practice in assessing performance and the specific wording chosen by the parties, rather than the court imposing legal methodologies.

3. An interesting debate in the case related to the impact of currents in the assessment of performance of the vessel. It was contended by the charterer that allowance should be made for the positive currents and positive currents should be, therefore, a factor in determining whether the vessel’s performance is at the warranted level. This argument found no support from the judge. It was held that in the absence of wording excluding the benefits of positive currents, such benefits should not be deducted in measuring the vessel’s speed for the purposes of the performance warranty. This provides a judicial clarity on the matter and is logical from a commercial perspective. A contrary solution would have meant that the owners would be penalised for its master finding a favourable current and ensuring that the vessel goes faster and burns less fuel (something that is economically beneficiary for both parties).

The judge applying the “good weather” method, reached the conclusion that the chartered vessel failed to meet the warranted speed so there was underperformance giving rise to a loss of time of 16 hours.

4. The judge also rejected the claim for hull fouling indicating that the use of good weather method for calculating loss from slow steaming would otherwise lead to double recovery.

The judgment is a reminder to the market that in the absence of clear and contrary wording it will be rather difficult to shift the traditional method of assessing a chartered vessel’s performance with reference to good weather method. However, especially in trip charters there remains a realistic possibility that it might not be possible to obtain good weather sample so as to be able to assess the performance of the vessel. In those instances, with the advances in technology, the courts and arbitrators might come under pressure to consider alternative assessment methods that could shed light on the performance of the chartered vessel.              

Because of whose COVID? Quarantine and offhire under a trip time charter.

London Arbitration 27/22 is the latest in a series of arbitration awards being published which deal with the effects of delays due to COVID-19 on vessels under time charter trips. The vessel here was chartered for a time charter trip on amended NYPE form in March 2020 for loading in South America and discharge in the Far East. In April 2020 the vessel arrived at the load port and was quarantined after the bosun tested positive for COVID 19. The charterers argued that the vessel was off-hire for the period of quarantine from 12 April to 1 May 2020. As well as the standard NYPE offhire clause 15, the charter contained two rider clauses, a pestilence and disease clause cl 78; and cl.114 which provided:

“Notwithstanding anything in this charter to the contrary, in the event that, at any time during the currency of this charter, the vessel suffers any loss of time (directly or indirectly) in connection with procedures (including, but without limitation, inspections and/or quarantine and/ or disinfection) imposed on the vessel, cargo or officers/ crew by any port authority or other authorized authority, body or agency, in order to combat avian influenza (or other similar disease) (influenza procedures), the vessel shall not be off hire for any such loss of time and any such loss of time (and the consequences of any such loss of time) shall be for charterers account and, irrespective of whether or not there has been any loss of time charterers shall be liable for the cost of all such influenza procedures which may be charged to or levied against the vessel or owners or officers/crew or cargo provided always that the vessel shall be off hire in respect of any such loss of time and shall be responsible for all influenza procedure costs which arise solely as a consequence of the vessel’s or officers/crew’s history prior to delivery under this charter …”

The tribunal found that the opening wording of cl.114 ‘notwithstanding anything in this charter to the contrary’ meant that the clause provided a complete code to allocate the rights and obligations of the parties as regards loss of time due to quarantine imposed in order to combat avian influenza (or other similar disease) (influenza procedures). Covid-19 being a similar disease, cl.114 covered the off-hire position due to the quarantine at the loading port. The vessel would remain on hire as regards any loss of time due to such quarantine procedures, with the sole exception being that owners would bear the loss of time and associated costs if these arose as a direct consequence of the vessel’s or officer’s or crew’s history prior to delivery.

Entries in the medical log from mid to late March 2020 recorded the third engineer as having a dry cough, a possible indicator of COVID-19,  and this was advised to the port health authorities along with details of the last historical crew shore leave back in December 2019. The vessel arrived on 12 April 2020 but on 16 April 2020 the port health authority decided that due to the log entries regarding the third engineer’s coughing symptoms, which happened prior to delivery, the entire crew should be tested for COVID-19. On 17 April 2020 19 of the 20 crew, including the third engineer, were found to have tested negative, but the bosun tested positive and as a result the vessel was quarantined for 14 days. The bosun tested negative on 27 April but the port authority maintained the quarantine until 1 May when they granted free pratique.

Clause 114 required the tribunal to address whether the quarantine directive was imposed as a result of the ship’s medical records, which disclosed the pre-delivery coughing symptoms of the third engineer, or for some other reason. The port health authority showed no further interest in the third engineer after his negative result on 17 April and its focus of interest was entirely on the bosun due to his positive test. Had all the crew tested negative it is likely that free pratique would have been granted on 17 April. As the quarantine directive did not therefore arise as a consequence of historical events prior to delivery, the charterers had not brought themselves within the exceptions provision of clause 114 and the vessel remained on hire between arrival on 12 April and the granting of free pratique on 1 May.

EU inclusion of shipping in the ETS. Latest developments.

Almost a year ago the EU Commission proposed inclusion of shipping in the Emissions Trading Scheme https://iistl.blog/2021/07/14/bastille-day-eu-commissions-present-to-the-shipping-industry/  with a proposed directive amending the 2003 ETS Directive. This was considerably less extensive that the proposed amendment to the 2015 MRV Regulation which is what the EU Parliament voted for in October 2020. The matter has recently come back to the European Parliament which voted on 22 June to make certain amendments to the EU Commission’s proposed directive amending the 2003 ETS Directive.

The Parliament’s proposed amendments would see coverage of 100% of emissions from intra-European routes as of 2024 and 50% of emissions from extra-European routes from and to the EU as of 2024 until the end of 2026. From 2027, emissions from all trips in and out of the EU should be covered 100% with possible derogations for non-EU countries where coverage could be reduced to 50% subject to certain conditions. 75% of the revenues generated from auctioning maritime allowances should be put into an Ocean Fund to support the transition to an energy-efficient and climate-resilient EU maritime sector. Instead of the phasing in of the surrender of allowances proposed by the Commission, the Parliament proposes that from 1 January 2024 and each year thereafter, shipping companies shall be liable to surrender allowances corresponding to one hundred percent (100 %) of verified emissions reported for each respective year.

Under the Commission’s proposal the person or organisation responsible for the compliance with the EU ETS should be the shipping company, defined as the shipowner or any other organisation or person, such as the manager or the bareboat charterer, that has assumed the responsibility for the operation of the ship from the shipowner.

The Parliament has accepted this, but has proposed an amendment whereby, a binding clause should be included in contractual arrangements with the shipping company so that the entity that is ultimately responsible for the decisions affecting the greenhouse gas emissions of the ship is held accountable for covering the compliance costs paid by the shipping company under this Directive. That entity would normally be the entity that is responsible for the choice and purchase of the fuel used by the ship, or for the operation of the ship, as regards, for example, the choice of the cargo carried by, or the route and speed of, the ship – in other words, the time charterer.

Quite how this binding clause in time charters of vessels coming into and out of the EU would be monitored is another matter.

The Parliament also proposed the expansion of the MRV Regulation, Regulation (EU) 2015/757, beyond CO2 emissions, to encompass ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ meaning the release of CO2, Methane and Nitrous Oxides into the atmosphere. The scope of the MRV Regulation should also be amended to cover ships of 400 gross tonnage and above from 1 January 2024, but operators of such ships operators should only be required to report the information which is relevant for inclusion from 1 January 2027 of such ships within the scope of the EU ETS, in particular the type of fuel, its carbon factor and energy density.

The Parliament’s decision was shortly followed by the Council communication of 29 June 2022 stating:

“The Council agreed to include maritime shipping emissions within the scope of the EU ETS. The general approach accepts the Commission proposal on the gradual introduction of obligations for shipping companies to surrender allowances. As member states heavily dependent on maritime transport will naturally be the most affected, the Council agreed to redistribute 3,5% of the ceiling of the auctioned allowances to those member states. In addition, the general approach takes into account geographical specificities and proposes transitional measures for small islands, winter navigation and journeys relating to public service obligations, and strengthens measures to combat the risk of carbon leakage in the maritime sector.

The general approach includes non-CO2 emissions in the MRV regulation from 2024 and introduces a review clause for their subsequent inclusion in the EU ETS.”

Following the adoption of the Council’s position, negotiations between the Parliament and the Council will start shortly in view of finding an agreement on the final text. One way or another, the inclusion of shipping in the ETS is coming soon.

Deductions from Charter Hire Made in Good Faith and on Reasonable Grounds?

London Arbitration 1/22

Disputes often arise in time charters on whether any deduction from charter hire can be made especially when there is an alleged underperformance of the chartered vessel.

It is well established principle of law that if a deduction is made from hire, such deduction must be made in good faith and be based on reasonable grounds (otherwise such deduction amounts to breach of contract on the part of the charterer). This effectively means that in case of a deduction for underperformance of the chartered vessel, the charterer might be called upon at short notice to demonstrate that its deductions were made bona fidei and its calculations were based in reasonable grounds (The Kostas Melas [1981] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 18).

This was the central issue in this dispute. The charterers withheld US$ 53,550.40 gross in respect of what they claimed was time loss due to underperformance to the extent of 6.6938 days (off-hire).

When the tribunal asked the charterers to demonstrate a prima facie case as to whether the deduction from hire was made bona fidei and on reasonable grounds, they responded with a report of weather routing company they appointed, some further comments from that company and the fact that the owners did not appoint their own weather routing company.

The tribunal found that charterers failed to address the question of good faith nor had they made any attempt to show that they had a claim for off hire. It was also noted by the tribunal that the charterers did not address the point made by the owners that there was no speed/consumption warranty in the charterparty as the fixture description of the ship was qualified by the words “all details about/in good faith”.

The tribunal here was simply deciding that the charterers had not shown that their deduction was made in good faith and on reasonable grounds so they were wrong to withheld the deduction from hire. It is theoretically open to charterers to claim that there was an underperformance of the chartered vessel but as hinted by the tribunal, based on the wording in the charterparty qualifying the performance of the vessel, it will be an uphill struggle to prove the existence of a speed/consumption warranty and the fact that it was breached!        

 

Misrepresentation and “Reservation of Rights” in Charterparties

SK Shipping Euorope Ltd v. Capital VLCC 3 Corp (C Challenger) [2022] EWCA Civ 231

The charterers entered into a charterparty contract with the owners of the C Challenger in February 2017 for a period of two years. The charterparty contained a term warranting fuel consumption and speed. Following problems with a turbocharger, the charterers alleged inter alia that the owners had misrepresented the vessel’s performance capabilities. The charterers raised the issue concerning potential misrepresentation on the part of the owner of the capabilities of the chartered vessel during a meeting in London on 21 March 2017. It was not until 19 October 2017 that the charterers purported to rescind for misrepresentation or to terminate for repudiatory breach. During the period of March- September 2017, the charterers continued to use the vessel (by fixing occasionally sub-fixtures); deduct periodically from hire and reserve their rights.

The following day, the owners purported to terminate the charterparty on the basis that the charterers’ message was itself a renunciation.

The trial judge (Foxton, J) found that there was no actionable misrepresentation. Furthermore, it was held that charterers’ conduct (especially fixing the vessel for a sub-charterer in July 2017 for a voyage to Tunjung Pelapas) was incompatible with an attempt to reserve rights to set aside the charterparty for misrepresentation) even though they expressly indicated that they “reserve their rights” after alleging that the owners misrepresented the capabilities of the chartered vessel (i.e. speed and consumption) during charter negotiations. The charterers appealed on both grounds.

Was there an actionable misrepresentation?

The key to the charterers’ appeal was a letter sent on behalf of the owner during pre-contract negotiations on 22 November 2016. The charterers argued that the representations made to them in that letter with regard to the chartered vessel’s last three voyages, its average speed and performance, included a representation as to future performance; and such representation was repeated in each of the parties’ subsequent communications by the restatement of the same data; and the trial judge was erred in law in concluding that there was no inducement

The Court of Appeal found that on an objective reading of the 22 November 2016 letter, a prospective charterer would have understood it be saying “this is how my vessel has performed on its most recent voyages and these are the warranties which I am prepared to give” and nothing more. It can, therefore, be safely concluded that there was no representation as to the future performance of the vessel with regard to speed and consumption. The tribunal also found that the explanation in the 22 November 2016 letter relating to the average of the vessel’s last three voyages was deliberately omitted once the parties began to negotiate. The natural conclusion that emerges from that is that they did not become part of the negotiations on which the charter in dispute was based or became “embedded” in the charterparty. (given that the Court already found that the representations in the letter did not include a representation as to the future, this finding had no impact on the judgment). Also, the Court was adamant that the trial judge made no error of law when concluding that there was no inducement.

Reservation of Rights

This part of the judgment has serious practical consequences for the shipping industry. A part of the industry until recently operated on the basis that the words “reserving my rights” would provide a silver bullet for an innocent party in a dispute or litigation that might follow! There is now authority to the effect that this is not necessarily the case.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the general statement that “a reservation of rights will often have the effect of preventing subsequent conduct constituting an election to affirm or rescind a contract”. However, just like the first instance judge, the Court stressed that this was not an inevitable rule. On this point, the Court agreed with the Commercial Court’s statement that actions of the charterer, i.e. nature and consequences of any demand for future performance, may in some instances be incompatible with a reservation of rights. By considering all relevant circumstances existed at the time the order to proceed to Tanjung Pelapas was given, i.e. the fact that the voyage would last two months and that the general reservations made at the time concerned other complaints, not just the misdescription of the vessel, the Court of Appeal endorsed the decision of the Commercial Court that the order was intrinsically affirmatory conduct.

Lessons!

The judgment is a good reminder that construction of the representations from an objective point of view will be vital in determining whether there is an actionable misrepresentation or not. But this is hardly new. More significant message to the industry (and lawyers) is that it should not be assumed that “reservation of rights” language will always have the effect of reserving the rights of an innocent party. This kind of language will be construed in the light of surrounding circumstances and whether it will have the desired impact will largely depend on the future actions of the innocent party.  

It is worth noting that in deliberating the consumption and speed warranty issue, the Court of Appeal in its judgment made reference to the work of late Dr Nikaki and Professor Soyer “Enhancing Standardisation and Legal Certainty through Standard Charterparty Contracts” published as Chapter 5 in Charterparties Law, Practice and Emerging Legal Issues (Informa Law, 2018)).  

          

Covid-19 and delays under time charters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off-Hire Clauses- Burden of Proof, Impact of Covid-19 and Legal Construction

London Arbitration 6/22

The vessel was chartered on trip basis on an amended NYPE form from India to China. The vessel was delivered to charterers’ service on 29 June 2020 and arrived at the first loading port at 04.30 on 30 June. The vessel then commenced drifting until 19.22 on 30 June in order to complete the cleaning of the holds. In fact, it was a requirement under the charterparty that the vessel’s holds to be washed down by fresh water, dried and ready in all respects to receive the charterers’ intended cargo of iron ore pallets/fines/lumps to an independent surveyor’s satisfaction. The charterparty also allowed owners 24 hours for cleaning the holds. The owners acknowledged that the 24 hours permitted expired at 13.44 on 30 June and they had, therefore, exceeded the allowance permitted by 5 hours and 38 minutes by completing cleaning at 19.22 on 30 June. They have, on that premise, accepted that the vessel was off hire during this period. However, charterers argued that hold cleaning was not completed at the end of the drifting period (by 19.22 on 30 June) and submitted that extensive manoeuvring by the vessel after the end of the drifting period has been an attempt by the owners to delay the time of arrival at the first load port with clean holds to ensure that the vessel would not be seen to have used time which would otherwise have fallen outside the agreed cleaning period. In fact, it was alleged by the charterers that hold cleaning continued between the end of the drifting period and was ultimately completed at the arrival of the vessel at the first load port. On that basis, it was the contention of the charterers that the vessel was off hire until 03.36 on 1 July (the time which the notice of readiness was tendered). To substantiate their point, the charterers relied on a message sent to them by owners on 26 June setting out their plan to clean holds taking into account the short ballast leg between previous discharge port and next port of loading.

The arbitration tribunal held that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations made by the charterers that cleaning of holds continued after 19.22 on 30 June or that the voyage from the end of the drifting period to arrival at the first load port was prolonged by any further cleaning undertaken by the vessel. Therefore, the vessel was off hire until 19.22 on 30 June. Without being aware of all the evidence presented to the tribunal, it is hard to criticise the finding of the tribunal on this point but as a general principle of law the burden of proving something was not the case falls upon the party arguing it and clearly charterers failed to prove their point. There was nothing in the message on 26 June relied on by the charterers to suggest that owners did in fact not complete cleaning of holds at the time they said they did. In the message, the owners simply indicated that completing cleaning might be problematic in the time frame, but they set out a schedule to achieve the required cleaning.

It was also argued by charterers that the vessel was off hire from 14.40 on 26 July until 15.30 on 28 July while awaiting a quarantine officer’s permission to discharge in China. The delay was caused as one of the crew members had a slight fever (37.4 Celsius) and it was as a result requested by the quarantine officer that a nucleic acid test is conducted.

The relevant provisions of the charter party were:

Clause 15   

In the event of loss of time from deficiency of men or stores, fire, breakdown or damages to hull, machinery or equipment, grounding, detention by average accidents to ship or cargo, drydocking for the purpose of examination or painting of bottom, or by any other cause preventing the full working of the vessel, the payment of hire shall cease for the time thereby lost.                         

Clause 45

Officers and crew to comply with vaccination and sanitary regulations in all ports of call and corresponding certificates to be available on board, enabling the vessel to obtain free pratique by radio.

 The crux of the charterers’ argument was that illness of crew member constituted a deficiency of men within cl 15 or alternatively the events fells within the definition of “any other cause” in cl 15. It was also contended that the owners were in breach of cl 45.

The tribunal was of the view that a body temperature of 37.4 Celsius was within the normal range of temperatures for human body and there was no reasonable ground to assume that the crew member was ill. Therefore, there was no good reason for the actions of the quarantine officer which were clearly excessive and arbitrary. On that basis, the delay was not an off hiring event within cl. 15- there was simply no “deficiency” of crew or the full working of vessel was not affected adversely as a result of a similar incident. It was also held that cl 45 was not relevant as there was no evidence that the owners and/or master failed to comply with the vaccination and sanitary regulations at the discharge port or there was evidence of any absence of certificates required be on board.

The events at the discharge port took place when China was implementing very strict measures to deal with the outbreak of the pandemic. That said, terms of a commercial agreement still need to be construed in line with the established principles of law and construction. The finding of the tribunal emphasises once again the fact that off hire clauses (just like any exception clause) will be construed narrowly (as illustrated recently in The Global Santosh [2014] EWCA Civ 403 by the Court of Appeal).

It is also clear from the finding of the tribunal that burden to prove that the off hiring event took place is on the charterers and mere speculation will not be adequate to convince the arbitral panel or judge that the event might have occurred in a particular way.            

Performance Claims in Trip Time Charters- Log Book Entries and Weather Routing Company Reports

London Arbitration 23/21

The charterted vessel was on a trip charter of about 55 days without guarantee from Recalada (Argentina) to Cuba. The charterparty form used was NYPE 1946 with additional clauses, and contained a performance warranty (cl 74) which stipulated:         

SPD/CONS ARE ABOUT, UNDER GOOD WEATHER CONDITION’ I.E. THE WINDS NOT EXCEEDING BF4, EVEN KEEL, NO DECK CARGO, NO SWELL, NO ADVERSE CURRENTS, THE SEA STATE UP TO DOUGLAS SEA SCALE 3 (MAX 1.25M). THE WORD ABOUT IN SPEED/CONSUMPTION REFERS TO AN ALLOWANCE OF +/- 0.5 KNOTS ON SPEED AND +/- 5% ON BUNKER CONSUMPTION RESPECTIVELY BOTH ALWAYS IN VESSEL’S FAVOUR. ANY GAIN ON TIME AND/OR CONSUMPTION TO BE SET OFF AGAINST LOSS OF TIME AND/OR CONSUMPTION – IF ANY.

ABT 13 KNOTS ON ABT 20 TONS VLSIFO + 0,1 MT LSMGO ECO SP/CONS:

ABT 12 KNOTS ON ABT 18 TONS VLSFO + 0,1 MT LSMGO

Clause 67 of the charterparty also provided:

The Charterers may supply an independent weather bureau advice to the Master, during voyages specified by the Charterers and the Master shall comply with the reporting procedure of the weather bureau. However, the Master remains responsible for the safe navigation and choice of route. Alternatively Charterers have the option to instruct the Master to report daily to a weather bureau during the execution of sea voyages. The weather bureau will subsequently produce a performance analysis report.

Evidence of weather conditions shall be taken from Vessel’s logs. Consideration of minimum 24 hours continuous good weather periods from noon to noon. No hire deductions for alleged underperformance claims. Vessel to be monitored by Charterers’ appointed weather routing company strictly in accordance with the performance warranty. The independent weather reporting bureau appointed by Charterers will be for their account. This does not preclude Owners from appointing their own independent weather reporting bureau for their account which evidence along with Vessel’s evidence shall be taken into consideration by all parties.

The charterers instructed a weather routing company (WRC) which prepared a report on the performance of the chartered vessel during the trip concluding that the chartered vessel achieved a good weather performance speed of 10.63 knots on the voyage compared to the minimum 12.5 knots warranted. As part of its assessment, the WCR employed a “good weather parameter” which utilised significant wave height (which naturally included swell) and ignored the effect of the adverse currents. Accordingly, the charterers claimed that the trip took an additional 87.78 hours (so was off hire during that period)- a sum of US$ 49,383 and they also claimed excessive bunker consumption in the sum of US$ 31,423.20. The charters also contended that the hull was fouled on entry into charterparty, which was a breach of line 22 of the Charter form providing that “On delivery the vessel to be… tight, staunch and in every way fitted for the service.” The charterers also challenged the veracity of the logbooks as “not true and correct logs of the voyage.”            

The arbitrator found that:

1) In the light of the evidence presented by the charterers, the vessel’s hull was fouled on entry into the charter (especially the constantly high slip figures on the laden voyage were inconvertible indication of hull fouling). This was a defect of the hull in breach of line 22 of the charterparty. Moreover, as the vessel was not in every way fit for the service to be undertaken, the owners were in breach of the charterparty, which resulted in a loss of time. The loss of time was an off-hire event under cl. 15 of the charterparty.

2) The arbitrator was convinced that the master exaggerated the wind and sea conditions recorded in the log book from sailing from Recalada until 16 February so he failed to maintain a true and correct log in breach of cl. 11.

3) The arbitrator found that the role of cl 67 was to evaluate the performance strictly in accordance with the parameters set in this clause. However, WRC essentially devised its own methodology of assessing the vessel’s true performance by construing the parameters set in cl. 67. Therefore, WCR’s findings were based on non-contractual criteria and not binding. However, based on the finding that the log entries were not accurate, the arbitrator was satisfied that the vessel underperformed in speed due to a hull deficiency.    

The finding of the arbitrator was in favour of the charterer but it clearly demonstrates that if the charterparty specifies the source of data from which good weather assessment should be derived, that data needs to be used and an assessment that employs other methods (or data) will be regarded as non-contractual regardless of how sound those methods are.  The arbitral finding also shows that increasingly reports from weather routing companies play a significant role in performance claims and the days of relying solely on the log book entries of the master are long gone! Performance claims usually require complicated assessment methods and there is plenty technical analysis in this arbitral finding that might be useful to parties and arbitrators in the future especially when depicting “good weather” qualification.          

Time charter trip. Quantifying shortfall of bunkers remaining on board on redelivery.

In London Arbitration 19/21 the bunker clause in a trip time charter from the Far East to Egypt provided:

“8. BUNKER CLAUSE:

BOD about 830 metric ton IFO 380 CST about 78 metric ton LSMGO.

Prices both ends: USD425 PMT for IFO 380 and USD685 PMT for LSMGO. 

BOR about same as BOD of IFO and BOR as onboard of LSMGO.”

The vessel was delivered with 888.56 mt of IFO on board and redelivered with 686.07 mt. The owners were prepared to allow a margin of 2 per cent for the term “about” but submitted that even on that basis the charterers had redelivered with a shortfall of 184.7188 mt of IFO. They said that the prevailing market price of IFO at the place of redelivery in Egypt was US$510 per mt, and claimed the difference between that price and the charterparty price of US$425 per mt on the shortfall, a total of US$15,701.10.

The Tribunal  held that the word ‘about’ without further clarification imported a 5 percent margin for both delivery and redelivery. Owners argued that this was not the case on redelivery because the charterers had the opportunity of supplying further bunkers to make up the shortfall but deliberately decided not to do so. Although the Tribunal could see the attraction of the argument it rejected it as adding such a gloss to the usual understanding of the term ‘about’ would cause uncertainty and leave the parties in the dark as to the nature and extent of their obligations.

The Tribunal then held that the charter prices on redelivery only applied to legitimate quantities on delivery and redelivery and not to any quantities as submitted by the charterers. The appropriate comparison to be made was between the charterparty price and prevailing market price at the place of redelivery. Speculation as to where and at what price the owners might have taken on bunkers after redelivery had to be discounted as a matter of an independent commercial decision of the owners after redelivery. 

The Tribunal rejected Charterer’s argument that they had requested the owners to load more bunkers at Singapore but were told that the vessel did not have sufficient tank capacity to load the quantity proposed by the charterers. The charterers had not then taken on additional bunkers in Egypt because the supply of bunkers there was unreliable both in terms of service and quality. There was no warranty as to the bunker capacity of the vessel and/or its ability to take on board any quantity of bunkers required by the charterers at any time at Singapore, or elsewhere, during the course of the trip.

Repudiation of time charter. Owners’ claim for summary judgment for damages.

The Marquessa (Giorgis Oil Trading Ltd v AG Shipping & Energy PTE Ltd) [2021] EWHC 2319 (Comm) involved repudiation of a time charter on Shelltime 4 form (as amended). Following repeated non-payment of instalments of hire, owners eventually accepted this conduct as Charterers’ repudiation and terminated the charter.  The vessel was then carrying a cargo, loaded on the orders of Charterers, for sub-sub-charterers, and having exercised a lien, as an act of mitigation, Owners agreed with Voyage Charterers to complete the voyage in exchange for payments to escrow.

 Owners applied for summary  judgment in respect of:

i)  unpaid hire accrued due prior to the termination of the Charterparty (the “Pre-Termination Claim”), and,

ii) damages consequent upon Owners’ termination of the Charterparty on the basis of Charterers’ repudiation or renunciation (the “Post-Termination Claim”), but excluding damages in respect of the period after the discharge of Charterers’ cargo from the Vessel.

Henshaw J rejected Charterers’ assertion that Owners had failed to allow for off-hire periods, presumably for the periods during which Owners suspended performance. Suspension of performance was permitted by the following clause in the charter.

“… failing the punctual and regular payment of hire …  [Owners] shall be at liberty to at any time withhold the performance of any and all of their obligations hereunder … and hire shall continue to accrue …”

Owners’ right to suspend performance was not a penalty. Nor was it arguable that Owner’s exercise of the right to suspend performance was an unlawful exercise of a contractual discretion.  The nature of the right is such that owners could reasonably have regard purely to their own commercial interests.  In any event, the suspension of performance in the present case was not arguably irrational, arbitrary, or capricious. Neither were Owners obliged to mitigate. Their claim was for liquidated sums due under the contract, not damages for breach. Further, any obligation to mitigate did not require them to refrain, while the Charterparty remained on foot, from exercising their right to suspend performance.  In any event, Owners did subsequently take reasonable steps to mitigate by means of their arrangement with the Voyage Charterers.

Henshaw J agreed that by the time Owners treated the Charterparty as having come to an end by reason of Charterers’ breaches a reasonable owner would have concluded from Charterers’ conduct that they would not pay hire punctually in advance as required by the Charterparty:

i) Charterers had failed to pay hire from the outset, and this continued over the ensuing months. 

ii) At most, Charterers expressed a willingness to perform, but repeatedly proved unable or unwilling to do so. 

iii) Charterers’ conduct in the present case deprived Owners of “substantially the whole benefit” of the Charterparty, and they were seeking to hold Owners to an arrangement “radically different” from that which had been agreed. 

It was not arguable, that Owners themselves were in repudiatory breach, for suspending performance and then reaching an agreement with Voyage Charterers: The charter entitled Owners to suspend performance, and the arrangement with the Voyage Charterers was a lawful step in mitigation, realising value from the exercise of Owners’ lien, and in any event post-dated the contract having come to an end upon their acceptance of Charterers’ breaches.

When the Charterparty came to an end in November 2020, the Vessel was laden with cargo and until discharge, no replacement charterparty at the current market rate was possible, and therefore there was no scope for entering into a mitigation charterparty. Accordingly damages ran at the charter rate up until discharge, from which Owners gave credit for address commission, Charterers’ payments and relevant sums received from the Voyage Charterers.  Credit was also given credit for the value of bunkers remaining on board at the date of discharge at the contractual rate in the absence of any evidence from Charterers as to the actual sums paid for the bunkers.

The correct date for assessing the credit for bunkers remaining on board was that of discharge on completion of the voyage for which Charterers had given orders, and not the date of termination. Clause 15 of the Shelltime 4 form (as amended) provides that “… Owners shall on redelivery (whether it occurs at the end of the charter or on the earlier termination of this charter) accept and pay for all bunkers on board …”.

The relevant date must, logically, be the date of actual redelivery, even if it was in fact later than the (natural) end of the charter or the date on which it was contractually brought to an end.  In any event, even if clause 15 were not construed in that way, owners would be still entitled to recover the bunkers used to complete Charterers’ voyage on a different basis, viz as damages or in bailment – as in The Kos [2012] UKSC 17.

Accordingly, Henshaw J found that Owners were entitled to summary judgment for a sum equivalent to hire from when they accepted Charterer’s repudiation to the date of discharge on the laden voyage in progress at that date, less credit for commission and bunkers remaining on board at the latter date.