The assessment of damages on early redelivery and mitigation – “The New Flamenco”

The Supreme Court has now handed down its long-awaited judgement on the “New Flamenco” (Globalia Business Travel S.A.U. (formerly TravelPlan S.A.U.) of Spain v. Fulton Shipping Inc of Panama [2017] UKSC 43). The New Flamenco has addressed the controversial issue of the calculation of damages for early redelivery in cases where there is no available market and the owners decide to sell the vessel.

The facts are rather simple: The charterers redelivered the vessel (a small cruise ship) early, i.e. on 28 October 2007 instead of 2 November 2009 and the owners treated the early redelivery as anticipatory repudiatory breach. The owners then sold the vessel in October 2007 for US $23,765,000. It later transpired that, due to the global financial crisis, the vessel’s value had dropped significantly at the time she should have been redelivered in November 2009 (being worth only US$7,000,000). The dispute evolved around the calculation of damages arising out of the charterer’s repudiation and focused, in particular, on whether credit was to be given to the difference in the vessel’s capital value when sold or when she should have been redelivered.

The case was referred to arbitration and the arbitrator decided in favour of the charterers, finding that the sale of the vessel was caused by the charterers’ breach and was deemed reasonable mitigation of the owners’ loss caused by the charterers’ repudiation. On appeal ([2015] EWCA Civ 1299), Popplewell J reversed the arbitrator’s decision and allowed the owners to claim their net loss on the basis that there was no direct causative link between the owners’ benefit (the difference in the vessel’s capital value) and the charterers’ anticipatory breach. The Court of Appeal ([2015] EWCA Civ 1299) then reversed Popplewell J’s judgement and reinstated the arbitral award. Finally, the Supreme Court has unanimously allowed the owners’ appeal, reversing the Court of Appeal’s decision ([2015] EWCA Civ 1299). As a result, the Court ruled that charterers were not entitled to deduct from the owners’ loss of profit the credit for the difference in the value of the vessel when sold just after the early redelivery and the date the vessel should have been redelivered.

Lord Clarke (with whom Lord Neuberger, Lord Mance, Lord Sumption and Lord Hodge agreed) delivered the leading judgement. The correct test to be applied is that of causation and in particular, that of a sufficiently close link between the benefit obtained and the kind of loss caused by the wrongdoer (but not that of the similarity between the two in nature). In other words, if a benefit is to be credited, it must have been caused by a breach of charterparty or by a successful act of mitigation, which was not the case in The New Flamenco. In fact, the owners’ decision to sell the vessel, whether before or after termination of the charterparty, is their independent commercial decision which has nothing to do with the charterparty. The charterers’ repudiation provided the owners with the “occasion” to sell the vessel but was not the “legal cause” of the sale.  In a similar vein, the absence of such a causal link would also work against the owners if the market value of the vessel had increased between the time of the sale in 2007 and the time of the agreed redelivery in November 2009.

Furthermore, the Court found that the sale of a vessel per se does not amount to an act of mitigation. In cases where there is no available market, like The New Flamenco, mitigation only entails the acquisition of an alternative income stream to the income expected under the charterparty. The sale of the vessel has nothing to do with mitigation as it is only the exercise of the owners’ property rights and does not aim at reducing the owners’ loss of income.

The Supreme Court’s decision clarifies mitigation and puts an end to the dispute as to what acts may amount to mitigation. Lord Clarke has stressed the importance of causation in defining what mitigation entails, without however making any reference to existing case law or elaborating further on the application of the test. The test is nevertheless the right one and leads to sensible solutions. The sale of the vessel is a transaction owners would have been able to undertake for their own account  irrespective of the early redelivery at any time at any time, including the charter party period, and owners should not therefore be asked to pay any profits they may make by selling their own property.

Temporal Scope of the Hague Rules Confirmed

Volcafe Ltd v Compania Sud Americana de Vapores SA (“CSAV”) [2016] EWCA Civ 1103.

This case involves condensation damage to nine consignments of coffee, which were transported in unventilated containers from Colombia to Germany. The bills of lading provided for the carrier’s liability throughout the transportation from the port of loading to the port of discharge, as well as for the applicability of the Hague Rules to carriage by sea.  Moreover, the carriage was agreed on LCL terms and therefore, the carrier provided and filled in the containers with the coffee bags.

At first instance, Donaldson QC considered inter alia whether the  loading of the coffee bags inland by the carrier into its containers fell outside the scope of the Hague Rules. If the answer were in affirmative, then the carrier would have been entitled to rely on the exemptions included in the bill of lading. The trial judge held that the initial stuffing of the coffee bags into the carrier’s containers and the subsequent loading of the container onto the vessel were to be regarded as part of a single loading process. Alternatively, he ruled that the parties had anyway exercised their freedom to agree on an extended scope of loading for the purposes of art.1(e) (relying on Pyrene v Scindia  [1954] 2 QB 402). In other words, the carrier’s undertaking to stuff its own containers were to be interpreted as an agreement that the initial stuffing of coffee bags into the carrier’s containers formed part of loading of the cargo under the contract of carriage by sea.

The CA (Gloster and King LJJ and Flaux J, sitting in the Court of Appeal) allowed the carrier’s appeal in respect of his defences of inherent vice but confirmed the trial judge’s decision of the temporal scope of the Hague Rules.

Flaux J., who delivered the leading judgement of the CA, relied on the relevant passage in the judgment of Devlin J in Pyrene v Scindia  [1954] 2 QB 402, 417-8, as approved by the House of Lords in Renton v Palmyra [1957] A.C. 149, to conclude that, having exercised their freedom to define the scope of the acts that fall within the scope of “loading”, for which the carrier assumes responsibility, the parties had agreed that the loading services included lining and stuffing the containers. Thus, these operations were governed by the Hague Rules and the carrier was under an obligation to perform those services “properly and carefully” under art. III, r. 2.

Flaux J. also rejected the argument brought forward by the carrier that  such an interpretation would result in a conflict of two international transport conventions, namely the Hague Rules and the CMR, if for example, the stuffing of the containers were followed by road carriage. He found that the CMR does not apply whilst the containers were being dressed and stuffed, since they were stuffed at the container terminal and not on board a vehicle. Furthermore, he held that the better view would seem to be that the CMR ceases to apply as soon as “loading” within the Hague Rules begins: see Clarke: International Carriage of Goods by Road (6th edition 2014) at pp 40-42.

Inherent Vice: Who proves what and how?

Volcafe Ltd v Compania Sud Americana de Vapores SA (“CSAV”) [2016] EWCA Civ 1103.

It’s indeed a good day for carriers as the CA has now restored the balance between carriers’ and cargo owners’ interests by reversing the controversial first instance judgement in Volcafe Ltd  v CSAV [2015] EWHC 516 (Comm).

This case arose out of condensate damage to nine consignments of coffee, which were carried in unventilated containers from Buanaventura in Colombia to destinations in North Germany. The High Court (Mr David Donaldson) rendered a judgement in favour of the cargo owners on the basis that, although the cargo damage was attributed to inherent vice of the goods carried, the carrier had not disproved his negligence. The carrier had failed to establish that he had adopted a sound system as underpinned by a theoretical calculation or empirical study.

The CA (Lady Justice Gloster, Lady Justice King and Mr Justice Flaux, sitting in the Court of Appeal) allowed the carrier’s appeal in respect of his defences of inherent vice.

Flaux J, who delivered the leading judgement, ruled that that once the carrier had established the inherent vice exception, the burden of proof shifted to the cargo owners to show that there had been negligence on the part of the carrier. He further held that such an approach is consistent with the weight of the authorities, which have applied the principles enunciated in The Glendarroch, even where the contract of carriage is governed by the Hague Rules, as well as with the principle that “he who alleges must prove”. In addition, he found that the adopted approach is supported by the wording of the “catch all exception” which is the only excepted peril that expressly requires the carrier to disprove his negligence before relying on this exception.

In addition, Flaux J rejected trial judge’s analysis of ‘complete circularity’ between Hague Rules, art. III, r.2 and art. IV, r. 2(m) because this approach deprives the exception in paragraph (m) of its force and that it has been long recognised as an excepted peril. Furthermore, he rejected trial judge’s approach to a “sound system” and in particular his requirement for a scientific calculation or empirical study. He held that such an interpretation imposes a standard beyond what the law requires. He also reiterated the well-established position that one of the indicia of a sound system is that it is in accordance with general industry practice.

The CA decision in Volcafe is welcome not only because it strikes a fair balance between carriers’ and cargo owners’ competing interests but also because it promotes the uniform application of the Hague and in turn the Hague-Visby Rules. In particular, the CA decision brings English case law in line with authorities in the United States and New Zealand who have held that, in case of inherent vice or other excepted perils (excluding the q defence), it is the shipper who bears the burden of showing that the damage resulted from negligence or fault caused by the carrier (See for example, Quaker Oats Co. v. M/V TORVANGER, 734 F.2d 238, 1984 AMC 2943 (5th Cir. 1984), U.S. v. Ocean Bulk Ships, Inc. 248 F.3d 331 (5th Cir. 2001), Terman Foods, Inc.v. Omega Lines 707 F.2d 1225 (11th Cir. 1983) and Shaw Savill & Albion Company Ltd v Powley & Co [1949] N.Z.L.R. 668).

As a final remark, one should not underestimate the impact of Volcafe on the approach to the burden of proof in all of the defences (except from the “catchall exception”) enumerated in Hague and Hague-Visby Rules, art. IV, r.2. Flaux J found the wording of the “catchall exception” as supporting the analysis that, in the case of all other exceptions, the carrier’s reliance on any excepted peril is not dependent upon the carrier disproving his negligence.