Liens on sub-freights. Where do they need to be registered as a charge?

The Singapore High Court decision in Duncan, Cameron Lindsay v. Diablo Fortune Inc  [2017] SGHC 172 provides a cautionary tale for shipowners about the need to register a lien on sub freights as a charge, and where this should be done.

The shipowners let their vessel on bareboat charter to a company incorporated in Singapore, under which they were given a lien on all cargoes, sub-hires and sub-freights belonging or due to the charterers or any sub-charterers and any bill of lading freight for all claims under the charter. Following default in payment by the charterer, the owners notice of lien to a sub charterer which employed the vessel in a pooling arrangement. The bareboat charter was subject to English law and provided for London arbitration.

The charterer’s liquidator contended that the lien was void against them for want of registration under s.131(1) of the Singapore Companies Act. The shipowners contended that as the charter was subject to English law, it was the UK Companies Act 2006 that applied to the registration of charges and whose provisions applied only to companies incorporated in England, Wales, or Scotland, but not to a company incorporated abroad. The Singapore High Court held that as the company was incorporated in Singapore, the requirements of s 131 of the Singapore Companies Act applied regardless of the law governing the creation of the charge or the location of the property.

A distinction needed to be made between the law governing the initial validity and/or creation of the security interest and the law governing the priority of such interests and the distribution of assets in the insolvency of the company. The latter issues are resolved by the law of the state in which the insolvency proceedings are commenced. The invalidity of a charge as against a liquidator due to non-registration is one such issue.

The court then considered whether the lien was a charge within the meaning of s131 and followed the English authorities cited by the Liquidator to the effect that a lien on sub freights give rise to an equitable assignment by way of charge and may be void for want of registration against a liquidator and creditors of the company. The lien on sub freights possessed the characteristics of a floating charge and amounted to a charge on a book debt under s131.

Shipowners, therefore, need to be aware of the insolvency law of their time charterer’s place of incorporation and its law regarding registration of charges.

Demurrage time bar. No need for simultaneous presentation of claim and supporting documents.

In London Arbitration 22/17 charterers claimed that owners’ demurrage claim was barred by reason of the following clause in the charter: “Charterers shall be discharged and release [sic] from all liability in respect of any claims under this Charter unless such claim has been presented to Charterers in writing with supporting documents within 30 days from completion of discharge.”

Charterers argued that the clause required that there had to be simultaneous presentation with the 30 days of the written demurrage claim, together with the supporting documentation. The two notices of readiness had not been submitted with the written claim, although copies had been supplied before the cut-off period, and they had been supplied contemporaneously with the events to which they related.

The tribunal rejected charterer’s contention. The owners had provided enough documentation for charterers to evaluate the demurrage claim. The documentation had to be provided within the deadline but did not need to be provided simultaneously with the claim. Accordingly, owners’ demurrage claim was not time barred.

Court’s power  to order sale of liened cargo

In The Moscow Stars [2017] EWHC 2150 (Comm) a cargo of crude oil was loaded in October 2016 under a time charter with PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas company. Shortly afterwards the owners gave notice of lien to charterers in respect of shortfalls of hire accruing since January 2016. The charter provided for London arbitration and December 2016 the claimant sought and obtained permission from the arbitral tribunal to apply to the court for an order for sale of the cargo.  The vessel with its cargo is currently drifting off Curacao, there being no other viable way of exercising the lien such as discharge into storage.

The first question before the court was whether the court had jurisdiction to order a sale under s.44 of the Arbitration Act 1996. Under s44(1) the court has “same power of making orders about the matters listed below as it has for purposes of and in relation to legal proceedings.”  The matters listed below are set out in s44(2) and heading (d) provides for “the sale of any goods the subject of the proceedings.” Males J held that the court did have power to order a sale and s.44(2)(d) applied where a contractual lien is being exercised over a defendant’s goods as security for a claim which is being advanced in arbitration. The time charterer here was the owner of the cargo. There was no need to consider the position had the cargo been owned by a third party that was not a party to the arbitration.

The second question was whether an order for sale fell within the powers of the court under CPR 25.1 which gives the court the power to make an order for “the sale of relevant property which is of a perishable nature or which for any other good reason it is desirable to sell quickly.”  The cargo was not perishable but there were good reasons why it was desirable for it to be sold quickly. The cargo had been on board the vessel for over nine months and, in the absence of an order, would likely remain there for many months to come.  This prejudiced the owner which was not receiving hire but was continuing to incur the operating costs of the vessel and was faced with approaching deadlines to drydock in January 2018 to comply with SOLAS and Class requirements.  Accordingly, Males J  ordered that the cargo be sold and directed the time charterers to sign any contract of sale as the seller.

 

 

Salvage Convention time limit and recovery of items from wreck

 

The time limit for salvage claims under article 23(1) of the 1989 Salvage Convention article 23(1) is two years commencing on the day on which the salvage operations are terminated. Where items are salved from a historic wreck, when does the two year limit start to run? This was the issue before Teare J. in  The Queen (on the application of David Knight) v Secretary of State for Transport [2017] EWHC 1722 (Admin).

Mr Knight undertook dives from various wrecks and claimed salvage from the Receiver of Wreck. The claim was denied on the ground that the two year limit had expired by the time salvage was claimed in respect of the items raised from the wrecks. Mr Knight argued that salvage operations of a wreck on the sea-bed cannot, as a matter of law, be considered to be finished or complete until everything is raised from the sea-bed or the salvor abandons his operations.

Teare J rejected this contention. The day on which salvage operations are terminated is the day on which the activities to assist a vessel or any other property in danger and which have given rise to a claim under the Convention have been terminated. This was a question of fact to be determined in every case. Here, the salvage operations in question had terminated after the salved items left the site. Although further diving operations on the wrecks continued in subsequent years this was not enough to show that they were part of the same operations as resulted in the recovery of the items for which salvage was claimed. Further preservation work on the items once ashore did not continue the salvage operations which ended once the items were rescued from danger on navigable or other waters.

The claim had also been rejected on the ground of fraud or dishonest conduct on the part of Mr Knight who had been convicted of offences in relation to the salved items under s. 237 of  the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Teare J was of the view that the discretion under art. 18 to refuse a salvage award in whole or in part due to fraud or dishonest conduct was not limited to conduct committed by the salvor in the actual salvage operations.

Implied indemnity and the Inter-Club Agreement

 

When an owner settles cargo claims, is the Inter-Club Agreement (ICA) the exclusive means of seeking recovery from a charterer under a charter containing the ICA, or can recovery be made under the implied indemnity? This was the issue before the tribunal in London Arbitration 19/17. The head owners settled claims under the bills of lading in respect of condensation damage to a cargo of steel carried from various ports in China and Taiwan to Antwerp. The principal cause of sweat developing was the difference in the ambient temperature between the Chinese loading ports and the loading port in Taiwan. The head owners then recovered a contribution from the time charterers under the ICA which was incorporated into the charter, which was on NYPE form. The disponent owners then sought to recover the full amount of what they had paid the head owners from their sub-charterer. The sub charter was also on NYPE form incorporating the ICA. They claimed this by way of an implied indemnity, on the ground that the claims had arisen as a consequence of following charterers’ orders to load cargo into the same holds at different ports with varying temperatures, so resulting in the cargo sweat which damaged the cargo.

 

The tribunal rejected this claim on two grounds. First, the disponent owners had agreed to a voyage, which inevitably involved the possibility of loading cold cargo which then had to be carried through warmer waters to the destination and the risk of cargo sweat occurring was something the disponent owners had agreed to undertake. Second, for cargo claims the implied indemnity gave way to the express provision that cargo claims were to be apportioned between owners and charterers in accordance with the ICA. On the facts these cargo claims were subject to 50-50 apportionment under cl. 8(d).

 

 

EU Member States urged to ratify/accede to 2010 HNS Convention by 6 May 2021.

 

COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2017/769 of 25.4.2017 authorises Member States to ratify or accede to the 2010 Protocol of the HNS Convention with the exception of the aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters. The decision also provides that they “shall endeavour to take the necessary steps to deposit the instruments of ratification of, or accession to, the Protocol of 2010 within a reasonable time and, if possible, by 6 May 2021”.

 

A parallel COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2017/770 contains a similar authorization in relation to those aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters, subject to depositing the standard declaration preserving the effect of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation, the Lugano Convention, and the 2005 agreement between the EU and Denmark in respect of judgments covered by the 2010 HNS Protocol.

OW Bunkers (again). Interpleader and maritime liens in Canada.

 

The collapse of the OW Bunker group in late 2014 has led to a series of interpleader claims in different jurisdictions in which competing claims to the deposited funds have been made by the physical bunker suppliers and ING Bank, the assignee of OW. An interpleader claim has recently been heard by the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada in ING Bank NV and Others v Canpotex Shipping Services Ltd and Others 2017  FCA 47. It concerns the effect of funds deposited by the time charterer and the  potential liability of the vessel under a maritime lien.

In 2014 OW UK supplied bunkers in Vancouver to two vessels on charter to Canpotex. Following the collapse of the OW group, competing claims for payment for the bunkers supplied were made by the physical supplier, Petrobulk, and ING Bank as the assignee of OW UK’s receivables. Canpotex interpleaded and obtained an order that the of OW UK’s invoice be paid into the US trust account of its solicitors, which payment would be treated as a payment into court. The interpleader covered only Canpotex’s liability.

Canpotex subsequently added the shipowners as plaintiffs to its statement of claim and sought a judgment as to whether Petrobulk or ING was entitled to all or part of the trust fund and a declaration  that following payment out any and all liability of both Canpotex and the shipowners was extinguished. In July 2015 Russell J heard the claims against the trust funds, (2015 FC 1108). There was a dispute about which terms governed OW UK’s supply of the bunkers to the vessel: the OW Group standard terms; or Schedule 3 of the OW Fixed Price Agreement. Both terms provided for the variation of the contract where the physical supply of the fuel was undertaken by a third party, but were worded differently.

Russell J found that there had been an oral agreement to apply the latter terms and the consequence was that Canpotex became jointly and severally liable under the contracts made between OW UK and Petrobulk.  Upon payment of that purchase price to Petrobulk, Canpotex would come be under no obligation, contractual or otherwise, to pay any amount representing the purchase price for the marine bunkers to OW UK or the Receivers. He then ordered Petrobulk be paid out of the trust fund and that ING be paid the mark up due to OW UK and that Canpotex’s and the shipowners’ liability in regard to the bunker delivery should be extinguished, as well as any and all liens.

The Federal Court of Appeal has overruled the decision. Interpleader proceedings had to be conflicting claims over the same subject matter which were mutually exclusive. The contractual claims against Canpotex advanced by OW UK and by Petrobulk were such claims, but Petrobulk’s assertion of a maritime lien was not a conflicting claim, and was a claim against the shipowners, and not against Canpotex.  If OW UK was contractually entitled to payment of the trust funds, that would extinguish Canpotex’s contractual liability, but Petrobulk’s maritime lien claim would remain alive. The Judge had been wrong to extinguish the shipowner’s liability for that claim and had also wrongly admitted oral evidence as to the terms of the spot bunker purchases. The terms applicable were those found in the OW Group standard terms and the case was returned to the judge for reconsideration.

If the judge finds that OW UK is contractually entitled to payment of the trust funds, this raises the prospect of ING recovering in full under the OW UK invoices from the trust fund established by Canpotex, and of Petrobulk doing likewise through its maritime lien against the vessel, if the vessel can be arrested in Canada.

 

 

General average and cargo interests.

 

In Offshore Marine Services Alliance Pty Ltd v Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd and Another [2017] FCA 333 the Federal Court of Australia was called on to  decide whether parties interested in the cargo, other than the cargo owners at the date of the GA incident, were liable to contribute in general average. A tug and barge carrying construction materials grounded on its voyage from Henderson to Barrow Island and the disponent owner of the barge and tug incurred expenses and costs in securing the common safety of the barge and the cargo, including costs of some Aus $4m associated with stabilising the damaged hull of the barge, re-floating it and towing it back to Henderson with the cargo intact and undamaged.

The disponent owners claimed GA contributions from Leighton and Thiess who had supplied the cargo pursuant to contracts with Chevron. At the time of the incident ownership in the cargo had passed to Chevron, but the disponent owners claimed that Leighton and Thiess had a relevant interest in the goods because under their contracts they remained “on risk” in respect of the goods, and/or were “responsible for the care, custody, control, safekeeping and preservation of” the goods prior to their acceptance by Chevron.

McKerracher J held that a liability to contribute in GA attached only to the owner of the cargo that benefitted from the general average act, or someone contractually liable to contribute would be liable to contribute.

Charterers’orders under voyage charters.

 

London Arbitration 18/17 involved two claims by owners arising out of charterers’ orders, first to suspend loading after the vessel berthed and second to wait outside the discharge port while charterers deliberated on whether to discharge at an alternative port.

The first order was contractual as charterers had the liberty to use the laydays as they chose and there was no scope for owners recovering the extra port expenses incurred during the suspension of loading. Under a voyage charter there was no indemnity for owners for expenses incurred in following charterers’ orders.

The second order was non-contractual as under the terms of the charterparty the vessel was to sail directly to the discharge port where she could tender NOR and laytime could commence. Charterers’ orders prevented the vessel from proceeding to such a position and damages were payable to owners for the entire period of delay to the vessel in reaching the position where the vessel could tender an NOR. Owners were entitled to damages, rather than demurrage, together with the costs of bunkers consumed.

Recast European Insolvency Regulation kicks in next Monday.

Regulation (EU) 2015/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
20 May 2015 on insolvency proceedings (recast) [2015] OJ L141/19 entered into force on 26 June 2015,  and will apply to insolvency proceedings from 26 June
2017.

The main changes from the European Insolvency Regulation (Regulation (EC)
No 1346/2000) are as follows:
– Codification of how the centre of main interests (the “COMI”) is determined. There
will be a rebuttable presumption that the COMI is at the registered office, but this will not apply if there has been a move of the registered office during the three months prior to the opening of proceedings.
– Coverage of hybrid and pre-insolvency proceedings. UK schemes of arrangement are
excluded from the Regulation.
– A framework for group insolvency proceedings, where two or more companies in a
group of companies are insolvent, will be introduced.
– Secondary proceedings are no longer limited to liquidation proceedings where a
company has an establishment. “Establishment” is now defined as “any place of operations where the debtor carries out a non-transitory economic activity with human means and assets”. The relevant time for assessing an establishment will be either the time of the opening of the secondary proceedings or, alternatively, the three month period prior to that. The insolvency practitioner in the main proceedings may now provide undertake to treat local creditors as they would be treated under secondary proceedings.
– New linked registers of insolvency proceedings will be established in each member state by 26 June 2018, to be linked via a central European e-justice portal by 26 June 2019.