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 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.

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.

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.

 

 

Demurrage or detention? Agreement for vessel to wait mid-voyage.

 

What is the nature of a claim for compensation when the parties to a sale contract agree that the vessel shall wait for orders mid voyage? Demurrage, or detention? This was the question that came before the court in Glencore Energy UK Ltd v OMV Supply & Trading Ltd [2018] EWHC 895 (Comm).

Glencore Energy sold oil on cfr terms to OMV Supply & Trading. There was congestion at the discharge port of Trieste and OMV asked Glencore that the carrying vessel should wait offshore until a berth was available, to which Glencore agreed.  On arrival at the waiting area the vessel’s master served NOR. The sale contract provided for 36 hours laytime at disport, commencing 6 hours after tendering of NOR or on commencement of discharge, and provided for demurrage to be paid in accordance with the  actual charterparty rate. The clause also required any claim for demurrage to be received latest 90 days from completion of discharge otherwise it would be deemed to have been waived. The contract also incorporated the BP 2007 General Terms and Conditions for CFR deliveries.

Glencore claimed compensation for the period waiting offshore at OMV’s request by reference to the demurrage rate, as well as for the cost of bunkers consumed there. This was a detention claim on the basis of an implied contract. The claim was submitted outside the 90 day period for submission of demurrage claims and OMV rejected it, arguing that the claim was a claim for demurrage, in that laytime was advanced when the master served NOR on arrival at the waiting area, with the demurrage provisions following mechanically.

Sir Ross Cranston held that the waiting period did not fall within the laytime and demurrage provisions in the sale contract or the incorporated BP terms. The former referred to laytime at disport and the latter defined laytime as time allowed for loading and unloading. The NOR given by the master could not start laytime for a waiting period during which there was neither loading or unloading. Glencore were entitled to compensation for the waiting time at the demurrage rate, together with the cost of bunkers consumed during the waiting time. Their acceptance of OMV’s request gave rise to an implied contract for “delay by agreement” under which the vessel would wait until further orders and Glencore would be remunerated for that service. The claim was one for detention, not demurrage, and accordingly was not within the time bar provisions for demurrage claims.

“Always Accessible” covers your going out as well as your coming in.

 

The term ‘always accessible’ in a voyage charter has been treated as synonymous with ‘reachable on arrival’ in the light of the decision in London Arbitration 11/97. Consequently the warranty has been thought to apply only to arrival at a berth and not to cover departure.  In Seatrade Group N.V v Hakan Agro D.M.C.C. (“The Aconcagua Bay”) [2018] EWHC 654 (Comm), 26 March 2018, the High Court has now held that the warranty covers both arrival and departure from a berth and has overturned the decision of the umpire applying the received wisdom that the warranty did not apply to departure.

Robin Knowles J, C.B.E stated: “Did the parties intend to provide for departure in the wording they used? Where commercial parties have addressed the question of the accessibility of a berth, I can see no basis for a conclusion that they should be taken to have addressed entry alone. Importantly in my view the Umpire did not provide an answer to this. The submission by Mr Nevil Phillips and Mr Ben Gardner for the Owners that the reasonable commercial party looking at the subject of berthing would bear all aspects in mind and not confine itself to getting into the berth, is to my mind decisive….The term “reachable on arrival” is to be found in some charterparties (particularly tanker charters according to London Arbitration 5/12 in LMLN 1 Oct 2012). The Owners submit that this self-evidently applies to arrival only. I am left with the perspective that there is a useful vocabulary from which parties can choose, if “always accessible” applies to departure as well as entry and if “reachable on arrival” applies to entry alone.”

Hague rules. No limitation for bulk cargo.

 

On Wednesday in The Aqasia [2018] EWCA Civ 276 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Sir Jeremy Cooke [2016] EWHC 2514 (Comm) that “unit” in Article IV rule 5 of the Hague Rules means a physical item of cargo and not a unit of measurement. The case involved a cargo claim against owners under a voyage charter for the carriage of bulk fishoil, which provided that “The Owners in all matters arising under this Contract shall also be entitled to the like privileges and rights and immunities as are contained in Sections 2 and 5 of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1924 and in Article IV of the Schedule thereto …”

 

Flaux LJ reasoned that the word “package” clearly referred to a physical item and the use of the words “package” and “unit” together and in the same context pointed strongly to both words being concerned with physical items rather than units of measurement. “Unit” refers to a physical item which is not a “package”, because, for example, it is incapable of being packaged or is not in fact packaged. This was the construction accepted by courts in other common law jurisdictions and favoured by the majority of academic commentators and textbooks.

 

It was also clearly confirmed by the travaux préparatoires for the Hague Rules. There was no suggestion in the travaux préparatoires that “unit” had been introduced to cater for bulk cargoes.  Any limitation by reference to weight or volume was abandoned by the end of the session on 31 August 1921, as was any limitation by reference to a multiplier of freight by the end of the session on 1 September 1921. The word “unit” had been introduced to cater for items of cargo which are carried without packaging, such as cars or boilers.

 

Accordingly, there is no limitation available under the Hague Rules in respect of loss or damage to bulk or liquid cargo. The Court of Appeal also rejected owners’ argument that the words of Article IV were written into the charterparty so that every provision in the Article must be given meaning and effect in the context of the carriage of the bulk cargo contemplated by the charterparty. On the correct construction of the charterparty, owners were entitled to rely upon no more than what Article IV provides.

 

Is  a ‘Waiting for orders’ claim a demurrage claim?

 

 

The answer to this question matters because of the documents required under a time bar clause for “demurrage claims”.

In The Ocean Neptune [2018] EWHC 163 (Comm) the vessel was chartered for a voyage from Taiwan to three Australian discharge ports on ExxonMobil VOY2005 form, and the Lukoil International Trading and Supply Company Exxonvoy 2005 clauses dated 30.05.2006 (“the LITASCO Clauses”). Clause 2 of the Litasco clauses provided a requirement for demurrage claims to be provided with supporting documentation within 90 days of completion of final discharge, with a similar provision for other claims but with a time limit of 120 days. In addition cl. 2(b) specified the types of documentation that had to be required for a demurrage claim.  Clause 4 of the Litasco clauses was a ‘waiting for orders’ clause which provided “If charterers require vessel to interrupt her voyage awaiting at anchorage further orders, such delay to be for charterers’ account and shall count as laytime or demurrage, if vessel on demurrage. Drifting clause shall apply if the ship drifts.”

At Gladstone, the first discharge port, the vessel berthed but then shifted back to the anchorage, remaining there for more than a month until charterers ordered the vessel to sail to Botany Bay.  The reason for the delay at Gladstone was that the receivers, Caltex, refused to take delivery of the cargo on the grounds that it was alleged to be contaminated/off specification. Owners initially presented this delay claim as a demurrage claim, but then reformulated it as a claim under cl. 4. The Tribunal held the Owners’ demurrage claims were barred because they failed to include a statement of facts for the loading port and the discharging ports, countersigned by the terminal, or if it was impossible to obtain such a countersignature, a letter of protest from the Master, as required by cl. 2(b). However, the Tribunal found that cl.2(b) did not apply to the claim for delay under cl.4. Charterers appealed against the finding.

Popplewell J allowed the appeal. The claim under clause 4 was a demurrage claim. Demurrage was defined by clause 13(d) of the ExxonMobil VOY2005 form which provided that demurrage was to be paid for all time by which the allowed laytime “is exceeded by time taken for loading and discharging and for all other Charterer’s purposes and which, under this Charter, counts as laytime or as time on demurrage.”  Clause 4 provided that the delay caused by waiting at anchorage shall “count as” used laytime or demurrage. Demurrage was not limited to a claim where charterers had exceeded the allowed laytime by the time taken for loading and discharging. The waiting time was, therefore, time taken for Charterers’ purposes which under the charter counted as laytime or demurrage.  This was to be contrasted with other clauses in the charter which provided merely that compensation for delay caused by breach would be at the demurrage rate.