Something fishy in the containers. Package limitation under the Hague Visby Rules

The High Court has just tackled the thorny issue, raised in the Australian case of The El Greco [2004] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 537 of what is the applicable limitation of liability for loss or damage of goods carried in a container under a contract of carriage subject to the Hague-Visby Rules. Kyokuyo v AP Moller –Maersk [2017] EWHC 654 (Comm) involved carriage of three containers from Spain to Japan. The contract of carriage initially provided for the issue of straight bills of lading, consigned to the claimants, but the carrier and shipper subsequently agreed to issue seawaybills which were handed over to the consignee. As the contract of carriage contemplated the issue of bills of lading and the contract of carriage was made in Spain the contract of carriage was subject to the mandatory application of the Hague-Visby Rules under Rule X(b), even though the shipping documents that were issued were seawaybills.

The goods in the three containers were frozen tuna, some of which were carried in packages, some in individual units. The individual tuna pieces constituted ‘units’ for the purposes of package limitation and constituted the ‘packages or units’ of the cargo as packed. By operation of Article IV rule 5(c) of the Hague- Visby Rules they were the ‘packages or units’  for  the  purposes  of  Article  IV  rule  5(a). It sufficed that the  language  of enumeration  was  consistent  with the truth (something that had not been the case in The El Greco). The limitation figure was presumed to be a single one for each container, unless the claimant could prove that there had been enumeration of the packages or units as packed within the container. The waybills had referred to the number of individual tuna pieces, on a ‘said to contain’ basis, but had not referred to the packages of tuna. The limit for the damaged goods in each container was a separate limit of 666.67 SDRs for each enumerated unit, the individual tuna pieces, and a single package limit of the larger of 666.67 SDRs or 2 SDRs per kilo of the gross weight of the damaged packaged tuna.

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