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.