No implied term qualifying free standing demurrage provision in sale contract

 In Gunvor SA v CruGas Yemen Ltd [2018] EWHC 2061 (Comm) a term contract of sale was made for the sale of  gasoline by 12 monthly consignments cif Hodeidah. The buyer was named as CruGas Ltd but the claimant argued that the contract was made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and that it had been unaware that within the relevant group there was a Cayman Islands company named CruGas Ltd. The claimant obtained performing vessels from a separate entity within its group of companies, Clearlake Shipping Pte Ltd (Clearlake), under a long-term contract of affreightment on an amended Asbatankvoy form. It claimed demurrage totalling $18m under the sale contract and claimed against CruGas Yemen Ltd and CruGas Ltd in the alternative. The defendants denied liability for demurrage on three grounds. First, the demurrage claims were time-barred by reason of a demurrage time bar provision in the COA. Second, a term should be implied into the sale contract that the claimant was required to prove the demurrage rates claimed were “in line with the market rate”. Third, the claimant had to prove that it paid the demurrage sums it claimed under the sale contract.

Phillips J first found that the contract had been made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and then proceeded to reject all three of the buyer’s arguments. First, it was established in OK Petroleum AB v Vitol Energy SA [1995] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 160 that words of general incorporation in a sales contract concerning demurrage provisions in a separate charter did not bring in terms ancillary to the accrual of demurrage, such as time bars relating to the presentation of demurrage claims. Second, there was no justification for the implication of the term contended for, which was neither necessary for the business efficacy of the sale contract, nor would give effect to the obvious but unexpressed intentions of the parties at the time they contracted. In any event, expert evidence from a chartering expert, was that the demurrage rates were all consistent with the market, insofar as such a thing could be said. Third, the demurrage provision under the sale contract was free-standing and not an indemnity.

 

New Year, New Regulations.

 

Two international regulations came into effect today and one EU regulation came into effect yesterday

 

  1. The IMO’s mandatory Data Collection System on fuel consumption under MARPOL Annex VI starts on 1 January 2019 for each ship of 5000 gross tonnage and above. The EU’s Monitoring Reporting and Verification Regulation on carbon dioxide emissions for Companies operating ships of over 5000GT which carry passengers or cargo for commercial purposes to or from European ports has been in force since 1 January 2018.

 

  1. The IMO’s amendments to the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code MSC.426(98) come into effect on 1 January 2019 for new and existing ships carrying IMSBC cargo. New individual schedules with specific carriage requirements have been introduced for the following Group B cargoes:

Sugarcane biomass pellets

Sand, mineral concentrate, radioactive material and low specific activity (LSA-I) UN 2912

Monocalcium phosphate (MCP)

Monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and mineral-enriched coating has been updated with Group B properties.

 

Shippers must shippers now declare whether a solid bulk cargo is classified as:

As HME (harmful to the marine environment), or non- HME. Overboard discharge restrictions will apply to HME solid bulk cargo.

3. Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on ship recycling.

From 31 December 2018, large commercial seagoing vessels flying the flag of an eu Member State may be recycled only in safe and sound ship recycling facilities included in the european List of ship recycling facilities. Three UK yards are currently listed on the european list. Ship recycling facilities located in third countries and intending to recycle ships flying a flag of a Member State must submit an application to the Commission for inclusion in the European List. Two facilities in Turkey and one in the USA have been included on the list. As from 29 March 2019 2300 the UK will no longer be a member of the european union and the UK yards currently on the european list will have to reapply to be admitted as a third party state.

BIMCO’s 2020 Marine Fuel Sulphur Content Clause for Time Charters and 2020 Fuel Transition Clause.

 

BIMCO have produced two clauses for inclusion in time charterparties to deal with the new Annex VI MARPOL requirements on sulphur content in fuel that come into force on 1 January 2020, and the ban on carriage of non-compliant fuel that comes into force on 1 March 2020.

  1. The Marine Fuel Sulphur Content Clause deals with owners obligation to comply with the sulphur content requirements of MARPOL Annex VI and also the sulphur content requirements of ECAs, and replaces BIMCO’s previous sulphur content clause of 2005.

The clause contains an express requirement for the fuel provided by the time charterers to meet the “specifications and grades” which are commonly set out elsewhere in a time charter party and to ensure compliance by their suppliers with applicable regulation relating to sulphur content. Charterers will also provide an indemnity to owners in relation to non-compliance with MARPOL requirements and the vessel will remain on hire throughout. Owners warrant that the ship will comply with the sulphur content requirements of MARPOL Annex VI which means that the ship is able to consume fuels that meet such requirements. Provided the charterers have supplied compliant fuel, they shall not otherwise be liable for any losses, damages, liabilities, delays, deviations, claims, fines, costs, expenses, actions, proceedings, suits, demands arising out of the owners’ failure to comply with their obligation to comply with the MARPOL requirements.

  1. 2020 Fuel Transition Clause for Time Charter Parties

This deals with the advance planning needed before 1 January 2020. “Compliant Fuel” is defined by reference to the requirements of MARPOL as of 1 January 2020.

“Non-Compliant Fuel” is defined in the context of use or removal of fuel with a sulphur content greater than 0.50%. Such fuel would be MARPOL compliant before 1 January 2020 but the clause is designed to deal with the use or removal of such fuel before that date.

Charterers will need to have supplied the ship with sufficient compliant fuel on board before 1 January 2020 to enable the ship to reach a bunkering port after that date to bunker with compliant fuel. No later than 1 March 2020 there must be no non-compliant fuel carried for use by the vessels. The parties are to cooperate and use reasonable endeavours to ensure no non-compliant fuel is carried by the vessel no later than  1 January 2020. This is to be done preferably by burning, with off-loading of any remaining fuel by 1 March 2020.

Charterers’ obligation is to pay to offload and dispose of any remaining non-compliant fuel they have been unable to burn. Disposal of non-compliant fuel  must be done in accordance with local regulations. Owners’ obligation is to ensure the ship is fit to receive compliant fuel “taking into account the type of Compliant Fuel that will be loaded…”

 

The two clauses are not intended for use by vessel fitted with and operating exhaust gas cleaning systems (i.e. scrubbers).

Brexit for beginners. A primer.

 

Now that Mrs May has seen off the challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party, it may prove fruitful for all parties to take stock with where we are with the process of the UK leaving the EU – what some have called ‘Brexit’.

There are two stages in this process. There is the withdrawal from the EU itself and there is the negotiation of a new trade agreement between the UK and the EU. The latter cannot commence until after the UK has exited the EU but the parties can give some indication of their future intent. This is what the framework declaration does. The document that is intended to have legally binding effect is the Withdrawal Agreement which governs the terms on which the UK exits the EU. If there is no agreement, then there is a ‘cliff edge’ Brexit – with all that entails by way of possible shortages of food and medicine, lorry parks in Kent, uncertainty around the rights of UK citizens living and working in EU Member States.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an implementation period from exit day to 31.12.2020 during which time the UK will remain subject to all the rules and legislation of the EU but will not be able to participate in EU institutions – so no UK MEPs. In this period the UK and the EU will attempt to negotiate a trade deal. The UK will be free to negotiate trade deals with third party states but will be unable to implement them. The implementation period may be extended provided notice is given before 1 July 2020.

The three salient elements of the withdrawal agreement. (1) Reciprocal guarantees for the rights of UK citizens living and working in EU Member States and for citizens of EU Member States living and working in the UK. (2) Financial settlement of the UK’s accrued obligations as a Member of the UK, such as pensions for EU employees, in the period prior to exit day. This is to be paid as the obligations would have accrued had the UK remained a Member. Further financial payments will be required for the implementation period, including any extension. (3) A backstop in the event that no trade agreement has been reached by the end of the implementation period. This is contained in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The third element is what is causing all the problems. At the end of the implementation period the UK as a whole would remain in a customs union with the EU and in addition Northern Ireland would be subject to some of the rules of the single market which would necessitate checks being carried out in the EU on certain classes of goods going into Northern Ireland.

The backstop is intended to be temporary and the Protocol states that it is not intended that it should form the basis of a permanent arrangement between the UK and the EU. On entering the backstop the UK would be no longer subject to the EU’s four freedoms, notably free movement of workers. The UK would no longer make payments to the UK other than in respect of its responsibility for accrued liabilities incurred during its period of membership. The UK would be constrained in acting on any trade deals with third party states as it would be prohibited from lowering tariffs below the EU’s common external tariff, and would also be prevented from obtaining a competitive advantage with the EU by lowering environmental standards[1], or labour and social standards[2], below those of the EU.

The backstop could be terminated by joint agreement of the UK and the EU or by reference to the arbitration proceeding established to deal with disputes arising under the agreement. It could not be unilaterally terminated by the UK. Although the technology for this does not currently exist, it is possible that in the future ‘maximum facilitation’ would be available to enable the necessary border checks without the creation of any hard border infrastructure. In this event, the rationale for the backstop would go and it would become possible for it to be terminated by either party either by reference to arbitration under the backstop procedure or by reference to the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 that deal with the termination of treaties. It should be noted that the EU is unlikely to want the backstop to last for very long as it may give Northern Ireland, which will remain in the EU single market, an advantage over the Republic of Ireland. See paragraphs 20 and 21 of the Attorney General’s advice to the Prime Minister of 13 November 2019.

The question for any Prime Minister, whether they be Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat will be the same. Is there any alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement concluded by Prime Minister May? Absent any such alternative or agreement to the Withdrawal Agreement, the legal position is that there will be an abrupt exit from the EU at 23.00 on 29 March 2019 – with all the attendant chaos of trade disruption, shortages of food and medicines, lorry parks on the M20, chaos as to citizens’ rights.

Let us consider some of these alternatives.

– Norway plus. This cannot be negotiated now but could be on the table in the implementation period. It would require acceptance of freedom of movement of workers and continued financial contributions to the EU,  albeit at a lower level than the UK’s contributions as a member of the EU, and would constrain the UK’s ability to conclude trade deals with third party states. To quote the last words of Kenneth Williams ‘Oh, what’s the bloody point?’ We might as well remain in the EU.

–  Stay in the European Economic Area. We might argue that the UK remains a party to the European Economic Area Agreement on leaving the EU, but under article 126 this will have no effect. This provides: “The Agreement shall apply to the territories to which the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community is applied and under the conditions laid down in that Treaty, and to the territories of Iceland, the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Kingdom of Norway.” The Agreement would not apply in the territory of the UK. Furthermore, without a customs agreement there would still be the problem of the border in the Northern Ireland between the UK, a non-member state, and the Republic of Ireland, a member state.

– Revocation of the notice of withdrawal under article 50. The UK could stay in the EU either permanently or temporarily to buy time to renegotiate, although the latter option would seem to be ruled out by the caveat in the AG’s opinion that such withdrawal of the notice of withdrawal should not be ‘abusive’.

– Suspend the article 50 notice to allow more time for negotiation. Fine, if every other EU Member State agrees.

– Renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. The EU Member States have indicated that this will not happen. The most that seems likely is an insertion into the Framework Declaration of an intention to continue negotiating a trade agreement when the UK enters the backstop.  Maybe some encouraging words about maximum facilitation when it comes into existence. However, who knows, Prime Minister May, might be able to pull a unicorn out of the hat –  or Prime Minister Corbyn? This is what the Prime Minister has come back with today after her meeting with the EU>

“The EU made clear:

  • that it is their firm determination to work speedily on a future relationship or alternative arrangements which ensure no hard border by 31 December 2020 so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.
  • If the backstop was ever triggered, it would apply only temporarily and the EU would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop.
  • That the EU stands ready to embark on preparations so that negotiations on the future partnership can start as soon as possible.

As formal conclusions, these commitments have legal status and therefore should be welcomed.”

– Run a second referendum. This would require agreement on the questions to be asked (three or two?) and on the voting system to be used (first past the post or single transferable vote or alternative vote?). Time is tight, as the old song goes, so an extension to article 50 would be required, but not too long otherwise there is the problem of the scheduled elections to the European Parliament on 23 May 2019.

 

Parliament has to act. If it fails to do so, we have the ‘Thelma and Louise’ Brexit of crashing out without an agreement with the EU, as surely as the sun will rise on 30 March 2019.

 

[1] Ireland /Northern Ireland Protocol. Annex Four. Article 2.

[2]  Ireland /Northern Ireland Protocol. Annex Four. Article 4.

The backstop and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Two pieces of good news for Prime Minister May yesterday. She survived the ’48 Crash’ which precipitated a vote of confidence in her by Conservative MPs – which she won convincingly. Ouseley J threw out the application for judicial review of the article 50 notification brought by Susan Wilson. However, the problem of the backstop still remains and the Prime Minister is now attempting to secure an amendment to the Draft Withdrawal Agreement from the EU on this issue.

This blog’s attention now turns to the public international law implications of the ‘backstop’ in the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sir Edward Leigh MP is of the view that the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties will enable the UK to terminate the backstop on the ground of a fundamental change of circumstances under article 62.

https://www.edwardleigh.org.uk/news/full-stop-backstop

This is disputed by https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/…/How-to-Exit-the-Backstop.pdf which states:

“In international law, a fundamental change of circumstances is normally understood as relating to something external to the treaty. Moreover, the party invoking fundamental
change of circumstances must also show that the change “was not foreseen by the parties” (Article 62(1), VCLT). In this case, the possibility of the backstop becoming permanent is already foreseen and is indeed already causing concern. On the other hand, this foresight is also in tension with the stated intention that the Protocol is to apply only temporarily.”

It is possible that if a technically feasible system of maximum facilitation for frictionless border checks comes into existence, the backstop would be terminable without agreement with the EU under this article.

It would also be terminable under Article 60(1) of the VCLT  which provides:
“A material breach of a bilateral treaty by one of the parties entitles the other to invoke the breach as a ground for terminating the treaty or suspending its operation in whole or in part.”
Article 60(3)(b) of the VCLT provides that a material breach consists in “violation of a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty”.  Article 2(1) of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Draft Withdrawal Agreement provides for parties to use their “best endeavours”  to conclude “an agreement which supersedes this Protocol in whole or in part”. This obligation is fundamental to the object and purpose of the Protocol and a refusal by the EU to accept a maximum facilitation system could be regarded as a ‘material breach’.

 

More Lex Brexitaria. CJEU OKs AG’s opinion.

The Court of Justice has just announced its decision in Wightman. It confirms the opinion of the Attorney General published last week that the UK is free to withdraw its article 50 notice before 29 March 2019.

In today’s Press Release it is stated.

“In today’s judgment, the Full Court has ruled that, when a Member State has notified the
European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has
done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.
That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU
and that Member State has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been
concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the
intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired.
The revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with
national constitutional requirements. This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European Council. Such a revocation confirms the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State and brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.”

Another instalment in the Lex Brexitaria is expected later today in the judicial review application concerning article 50 in the Administrative Court which was heard last Friday.

 

In the light of the judgment, the current Prime Minister Mrs May has made  a statement at 15.30 in which she  announced a delay to tomorrow’s meaningful vote in the House of Commons on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement. The Prime Minister hopes to use this delay to address the concerns of MPs regarding the backstop. She could start by getting them to read paragraphs 20 and 21 of the Attorney General’s advice which points out that Northern Ireland will be in a more advantageous position with the EU than the rest of the UK in the event the UK enters the backstop.

Back to bailment. A storm in a coffee cup.

 

In today’s decision in Volcafe Ltd and others (Appellants) v Compania Sud Americana De Vapores SA (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 61 the Supreme Court has overruled the decision of the Court of Appeal on the incidence of the burden of proof in relation to the exception of inherent vice in article IV (2)(m) of the Hague Rules.

The claim arose out of for nine separate consignments of bagged Colombian green coffee beans shipped at Buenaventura in Colombia between 14 January and 6 April 2012 on various vessels owned by the defendant shipowners for carriage to Bremen. They were stowed in a total of 20 unventilated 20-foot containers.

The bills of lading, which were subject to English law and jurisdiction and incorporated the Hague Rules, were on LCL/FCL (less than full container load/full container load) terms which meant that the carriers were contractually responsible for preparing the containers for carriage and stuffing the bags of coffee into them. If coffee is carried in unventilated containers from a warm to a cooler climate the beans will inevitably emit moisture which will cause condensation to form on the walls and roof of the container. This makes it necessary to protect the coffee from water damage by lining the roof and walls with an absorbent material such as cardboard, corrugated paper or “Kraft” paper. This was a common commercial practice in 2012 and was used by the carriers in this case, but when the containers were opened the bags in 18 of them were found to have suffered water damage from condensation.

The case raised the issue of the legal burden of proof at two stages. First, does the cargo-owner bear the legal burden of proving breach of  article III(2) of the Hague Rules, or is it for the carrier, once loss or damage to the cargo has been ascertained, to prove compliance? Second, as regards to article IV.2, and particularly exception (m), what is the burden of proof.. The carrier accepted that he must bear the burden of proving facts which bring the case within an exception, but submitted that once he had done so it is for the cargo-owner to prove that it was the negligence of the carrier which caused the excepted peril (in this case, inherent vice) to operate on the cargo. This was the analysis adopted by the Court of Appeal.

Lord Sumption gave the leading judgment and found that the questions must be resolved by examining the nature of a contract for the carriage of goods by sea. This was a contract of bailment under which the carrier is under an obligation is to take reasonable care of the goods accepted into its custody with a rule that the carrier would be liable for loss or damage to the goods while in its custody unless it could disprove negligence. The scheme of the Hague Rules assumes that the carrier does indeed have the burden of disproving negligence albeit without imposing that burden on him in terms.

In principle where cargo is shipped in apparent good order and condition but is discharged damaged the carrier bears the burden of proving that that was not due to its breach of the obligation in article III.2 to take reasonable care. The Hague Rules authorities, such as Gosse Millard v Canadian Government Merchant Marine Ltd [1927] 2 KB 432 and Silver v Ocean Steamship Co Ltd [1930] 1 KB, bear this out. The true rule is that the carrier must show either that the damage occurred without fault in the various respects covered by article III.2, or that it was caused by an excepted peril. If the carrier can show that the loss or damage to the cargo occurred without a breach of the carrier’s duty of care under article III.2, he will not need to rely on an exception.

As regards the second issue, the burden of proof under article IV (2), pre Hague Rules decisions such as Notara v Henderson (1872) LR 7 QB 225 and The Xantho (1887) 12 App Cas 503 and Hamilton, Fraser & Co v Pandorf & Co (1887) 12 App Cas 518 treated absence of fault as an integral part of the exception of perils of the sea. Against that there is the decision of the Court of Appeal in The Glendarroch [1894] P 226,  holding that the burden of proving that an excepted peril had been occasioned by the carrier’s negligence lay on the cargo owner.

Even if the decision was correct as regards the exception for perils of the sea, it would not apply to the exception for inherent vice. The distinction between the existence of the peril and the standard of care required of the carrier is impossible to make in that context. A cargo does not suffer from inherent vice in the abstract, but only in relation to some assumed standard of knowledge and diligence on the part of the carrier.  Lord Sumption stated:

  1. It follows that if the carrier could and should have taken precautions which would have prevented some inherent characteristic of the cargo from resulting in damage, that characteristic is not inherent vice. Accordingly, in order to be able to rely on the exception for inherent vice, the carrier must show either that he took reasonable care of the cargo but the damage occurred nonetheless; or else that whatever reasonable steps might have been taken to protect the cargo from damage would have failed in the face of its inherent propensities.

The Court of Appeal held that the Deputy Judge’s had misdirected himself in finding that article III (2) meant that the cargo had to be carried in accordance with a system that would prevent damage, and that inherent vice could be demonstrated only if damage was inevitable. The Deputy Judge had found that the evidence did not establish what weight of paper was used for these shipments, except that it was more than 80 gsm, and did not establish how many layers were used, and there was no evidence to show what thickness of paper ought to be used for a given number of layers, in order to avoid condensation damage, and no generally accepted commercial practice this point. The Court of Appeal had made two different findings of fact. First, that there was an accepted industry practice in 2012 for lining unventilated containers for the carriage of bagged coffee, either by using two layers of paper of at least 80 gsm or one layer of at least 125 gsm. Second, that two layers of paper had been used. It therefore followed that the containers had been lined in accordance with accepted industry practice. The Court of Appeal was not justified in overturning the deputy judge’s findings on either of these two critical points.

Lord Sumption concluded:

  1. I would hold that the carrier had the legal burden of proving that he took due care to protect the goods from damage, including due care to protect the cargo from damage arising from inherent characteristics such as its hygroscopic character. I would reinstate the deputy judge’s conclusions about the practice of the trade in the lining of unventilated containers for the carriage of bagged coffee and the absence of evidence that the containers were dressed with more than one layer of lining paper. In the absence of evidence about the weight of the paper employed, it must follow that the carrier has failed to prove that the containers were properly dressed.

 

Today’s decision is of great importance to both carriers and cargo owners. It reiterates the accepted wisdom as regards the operation of the burden of proof in respect of Article III(2), but departs substantially from that  position as regards the incidence of the burden of proof in respect of the exceptions afforded to the carrier under Article IV(2). Although the case concerned the specific exception of inherent vice, the Supreme Court’s decision would apply equally to all the exceptions in Article IV(2) – save for the nautical fault exception in (a) and the ‘catch-all’ exception in (q) which in terms specifically requires the carrier to prove absence of fault on its part or that of its servant or agents.

Advocate General comes out for unilateral right to revoke article 50 notice (terms and conditions apply)

 

Today Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona has given an opinion[1] that Article 50 TEU allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded, provided that the revocation has been decided upon in accordance with the Member State’s constitutional requirements, is formally notified to the European Council and does not involve an abusive practice. Revocation is only possible within the two year period that starts when the intention to withdraw is notified.

The decision of the Court of Justice on this matter is expected later this month.

 

[1] Advocate General’s Opinion in Case C-621/18 Wightman and Others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union