One breach, two losses. Does demurrage cover both?

Andrew Baker J today has said that it does not. In K Line PTE Ltd v Priminds Shipping (HK) Co, Ltd [2020] EWHC 2373 (Comm) the vessel was kept at the anchorage for some 31 days due to port congestion and lack of storage space ashore for the cargo. In consequence when the cargo of soyabeans was discharged it exhibited substantial mould and caking. This led to a cargo claim against owners who then settled and sought to recover from voyage charterers by way of damages for breach of their obligation to discharge within the laydays.

 Dicta of Sargant LJ in Reidar v Arcos [1927] KB 352, not the easiest of cases from which to extract a ratio, suggested that demurrage was the sole remedy for breach of that obligation, but that the case before him involved a breach of a separate obligation, a proposition applied by Potter J in The Bonde [1991] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 136). By contrast, Webster J in The Altus [1985] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 423 held that demurrage only had the effect of providing liquidated damages for a specific type of loss, the economic loss suffered by owners in the charterers exceeding the laydays for which they had paid in the freight. It did not cover other types of loss flowing from this breach. This was the view of Bankes LJ in Reidar. The contentious point was whether Atkin LJ had been with Sargant LJ or with Bankes LJ.

The academic writings were divided: Carver on Charterparties , Voyage Charters, and Shipping Law for the view of Sargant LJ; Scrutton contra for that of Bankes LJ; Schofield undecided; and Summerskill nowhere to be seen. After a long discussion as to whether precedent required him to follow The Bonde – it did not – Andrew Baker J held that damages could be claimed for the cargo claim resulting from the delayed discharge, notwithstanding the demurrage provision. He added that had he come to a different conclusion, there would have been no scope for implying an indemnity -owners’ second string to their bow.

One suspects this will come as an unpleasant surprise to charterers, but perhaps the bigger surprise is what owners were doing settling a claim which under the Hague Rules they would have had a good chance of resisting under Art IV (2)(q)  which provides an exemption as follows: “Any other cause arising without the actual fault or privity of the carrier, or without the fault or neglect of the agents or servants of the carrier, but the burden of proof shall be on the person claiming the benefit of this exception to show that neither the actual fault or privity of the carrier nor the fault or neglect of the agents or servants of the carrier contributed to the loss or damage.”  Deterioration of the cargo due to delay in discharge due to congestion would very likely constitute such a cause.

This looks like one for the Court of Appeal, and, maybe, the Supreme Court.

Commencement of Laytime- Covid 19 and “Free Practique” Rears Its Face Again

“Free pratique” is essentially the licence given to a vessel by authorities to enter a port on the assurance that she is free from contagious diseases. In normal times, obtaining this certificate is regarded as a mere formality and this led some judges to comment in some cases, like Longmore, LJ did in The Eagle Valencia [2010] EWCA 713, that lack of this certificate will not prevent a valid notice of readiness (NOR) essential for the commencement of laytime. However, it should not be disregarded that the decision in this case was the result of judicial construction of various contradictory terms incorporated into the relevant charterparty. So, it will be ambitious to suggest that this case establishes a principle to the effect that obtaining free pratique is not essential for a vessel to be ready in legal sense!

In fact, the “free pratique” forms an important part of the ship’s papers and has the potential to cause problems for owners in today’s climate especially if the charterparty in question does not expressly state otherwise. It has been doubted in a number of old authorities (e.g. The Delian Spirit [1971] Lloyd’s Rep 64) whether incorporation of a “WIFPON” clause (Whether in free pratique or not) removes the need for obtaining a “free patique” certificate so a vessel which is physically ready becomes an “arrived ship” in legal sense of the word. To say that WIFPON clause does not have this effect clearly contradicts plain meaning of such a clause. And, it is hoped that this point receives some judicial attention soon.

aerial photo of cargo ships on pier
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

However, in the absence of a specialized clauses (e.g.  BIMCO’s Infectious or Contagious Diseases Clause for Voyage Charterparties) and in  today’s world hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very likely that not being able to obtain free pratique will have grave consequences for the owners and time lost in a loading or discharging port as a result will be on their account. Reports are suggesting that in many ports around the world, vessels are asked to remain in quarantine for 14 days before authorities grant the free pratique certificate. For example, recently Argentinian Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Health have instructed the maritime authorities in the country to compel specific vessels- under certain circumstances- to remain in quarantine for 14 days.

When entering into charterparties, shipowners need to be aware of the so-called “new normal” and it is advisable to insist on incorporating specialized clauses to deal with such problems.  BIMCO’s Infectious or Contagious Diseases Clause, mentioned above, or INTERKANKO’s Covid-19 Clause, (discussed in an earlier blog) offers protection to owners as under such clauses any time lost in a port of loading or discharge due to reasons associated with Covid-19 pandemic will count as laytime  (or demurrage).

INTERTANKO Covid-19 Clause- Tailor Made Solution to the Pandemic in Voyage Charters

One of the main legal challenges emerging from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic for shipowners in the context of voyage charterparties is whether a valid NOR can be tendered to enable the running of laytime clock before a “free pratique” certificate is obtained from authorities. Reports suggest that there are significant delays in some ports in obtaining this certificate. Some charterparties might include a “WIFPON” clause (Whether in free pratique or not) and some commentators believe that such a clause removes the need for obtaining a “free patique” certificate so a vessel which is physically ready becomes an “arrived ship” in legal sense of the word. However, as discussed by my colleague Professor Simon Baughen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wcjbGYwW7o&t=52s) this position has been doubted in a number of authorities (e.g. The Delian Spirit [1971] Lloyd’s Rep 64) although such a finding seems to contradict plain meaning of a “WIFPON” clause.

The most recent clause released by INTERTANKO seems to offer a clarification and much needed certainty for shipowners. If incorporated into the contract, under Clause 2© of the INTERTANKO Covid-19 Clause for Voyage Charterparties, ship owners are able to serve a valid and effective NOR whether or not free pratique certificate has been granted, thereby passing the risk of any delay on to charterers who ordered the chartered vessel to that particular port.

covid
It needs to be noted that the Clause deals with other issues that can arise in ports that are affected from the current situation. Clause 1 enables the shipowner to refuse an order to proceed to a port affected from the pandemic. An interesting point here is that the right to refuse to proceed is left to the reasonable judgment of the owners or master by taking into account whether there is a risk of exposure of the crew or other personnel on board to Codivid-19. From legal perspective, this subjective test means that owners and masters are likely to be given the benefit of any doubt as to the state and condition of the port in question if the matter becomes the subject of litigation at a later stage. Clause 2 is designed to protect the interest of the owners further. For example, by virtue of Clause 2(a) if the chartered vessel sails towards a Coronavirus-affected port, the master can request fresh orders should the level of risk become unacceptable prior to arrival at the load or discharge port. Similarly, Clause 2(b) provides that the chartered vessel may still depart and proceed to a safe waiting place if the risk escalates after the arrival of the chartered vessel at the port and even after the tendering of NOR. Clause 2(d) addresses the issues which arise due to the Coronavirus risk, e.g. quarantine and any delay thereby caused, and indicates that such expenses are passed to charterers.

In addition to risks associated in a port that has been directed by the charterer, the clause goes on to allocate the risk of losses that the vessel might suffer after the completion of the voyage (i.e. in the course of its future employment). Clause 3, therefore, provides:

“Should the Vessel be boycotted, refused admission to port, quarantined, or otherwise delayed in any manner whatsoever by reason of having proceeded to a Coronavirus Affected Area, for all time lost Owners to be compensated by Charterers at the demurrage rate and all direct losses, damages and/or expenses incurred by Owners shall be paid by Charterers. In the event that the Vessel is boycotted, refused admission, or otherwise delayed as stated above within 30 days after having completed discharge under this charterparty, then Charterers are to compensate Owners for all time lost as a result at the demurrage rate in addition to compensating Owners for all direct losses, damages, and or expenses which may arise as a result of the above.”

Front-Shanghai

This is a very bold provision and it essentially offers a protection for owners for a period of 30 days after the completion of discharge under a previous fixture so that any delays or expense under a subsequent fixture will fall to the previous charterer.

Needless to say, the INTERTANKO Covid-19 Clause is rather owner friendly and is designed to apply to this particular pandemic unlike BIMCO Infectious or Contagious Disease Clause for Voyage Charter Parties 2015 which has a much wider application, i.e. the latter can apply in any instance when there is “a highly infectious or contagious disease that is seriously harmful to humans”. That said, the INTERTANKO Covid-19 Clause offers a tailor made solution to the legal and practical problems facing the sector at the moment and no doubt some owners might be able to slip it in their charter agreements!

Security clauses in charters — by hook or by crook they will be enforced

Behind Teare J’s decision today in Trafigura Maritime Logistics PTE Ltd v Clearlake Shipping PTE Ltd (Rev 1) [2020] EWHC 995 (Comm) lies a fairly standard series of shipping lawyer’s nightmares.

Trafigura time-chartered the Miracle Hope, a big (320,000 dwt) VLCC, from Ocean Light. They voyage-chartered her to Clearlake and Clearlake sub-voyage-chartered to Petrobras, both charters being back-to-back under Shellvoy 6. Petrobras demanded that the cargo be delivered without production of the bill of lading; the demand was passed up the chain and the cargo (worth, before the recent oil debacle, something over $70 million) released.

Thereupon Natixis, a Dutch bank which had financed Petrobras’s buyers, emerged brandishing a bill of lading apparently issued by Ocean Light, demanded the value of the cargo, and arrested the ship in Singapore. Ocean Light immediately demanded an indemnity from Trafigura: Trafigura, relying on a duty in the charterer in such cases to “provide an LOI as per Owners’ P&I Club wording”, demanded an LOI from Clearlake and Clearlake did the same from Petrobras. Following clear practice (e.g. The Laemthong Glory [2004] EWHC 2738 (Comm); [2005] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 632), Henshaw J granted mandatory orders down the line requiring the charterers to provide such bail or other security required to secure the release of the vessel.

Unfortunately at this point problems arose. Clearlake and Petrobras negotiated with Natixis; the result was deadlock. Furthermore, owing to the worldwide contagion the Singapore courts could not break the deadlock for some weeks. And, of course, all the time the Miracle Hope was mewed up in Singapore: something which, with tanker hire rates now sky-high, would not do.

In other words, Henshaw J’s order was unworkable. As a result the matter came back to the Commercial Court. To order the provision of a guarantee satisfactory to Natixis would be unsatisfactory: furthermore, since the matter was likely eventually to reach the Singapore courts, it risked prejudging the issue in that forum.

The solution reached was workmanlike. The court had to do something. Security to obtain the release of a vessel could take the form of a payment into court; and, faute de mieux, Teare J ordered just that. Clearlake and Petrobras were ordered to arrange for payment into the Singapore court of $76 million within 8 days, no doubt with Petrobras bound to indemnify Clearlake, who in the circumstances were little more than piggy-in-the-middle. If this was necessary to secure the release of the vessel, this would be what was ordered.

And rightly so, in our view. As the title of this blogpost implies, an obligation to secure the release of a vessel has to be given effect. As with Coronavirus, so with the release of a ship: it is a case of doing all that it takes. Even if that takes a slightly unorthodox form.

Fixture recap “otherwise as clean Gencon 94 charterparty to be amended/altered as per above main terms agreed”. Are Gencon 94 law and arbitration provisions brought into the charter?

 

In London Arbitration 2/20 a fixture recap set out detailed provisions and concluded “otherwise as clean Gencon 94 charterparty to be amended/altered as per above main terms agreed”. The charterers argued that the law and arbitration provisions in cl. 19(a) of Gencon 94 was not a “main term” agreed in the recap email and was not incorporated into the charter. The tribunal rejected this argument and held that the  concluding words of the recap meant that one should take a clean Gencon 94 form and write into it what “main terms” had been agreed. The parties  had agreed considerable details as set out in the recap email, and then incorporated the terms of the Gencon 94 charter, which were to be adjusted to reflect the detail agreed. The tribunal accordingly had jurisdiction

 

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

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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.