Stuck in the middle with you.  Back to back time bar clauses in chain of charters.

 

 

P v Q, Q v R, R v S [2018] EWHC 1399 (Comm) involved three voyage charters in the middle of a lengthy chain, between P and Q, Q and R, and R and S. Each contained the same time bar clause barring all claims if arbitration was not commenced within thirteen months of final discharge. Final discharge was on 16 October 2015 and  in September 2016 cargo claims were made against the owners and duly passed down the chain. On 16 November 2016 after their office had closed, P received notification of the appointment of an arbitrator by their disponent owner, Sinochart. By the time they became aware of this on 17 November, the thirteen month time limit in their charter with Q had expired.  P notified Q and appointed an arbitrator on 30 November. Q then contacted R and appointed  their arbitrator on 17 November, with R doing likewise to S, appointing their arbitrator on 1 December.

The notices of arbitration down the three charter chain from P to S were all out of time. However, P argued there had to be an implicit limitation on the literal meaning of the arbitration clause C so that the time bar would not apply where it was impossible for a claim to be passed on within the stipulated time because the recipient of a notice of claim was unaware of the claim or receipt of a notice thereof, or where, at the expiration of the time limit, no dispute existed that could be made the subject of a commencement of arbitration.  A similar argument had been raised, and rejected, in  The Himmerland [1965] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 353 and in The Stephanos [1989] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 506  in which it had been held that the three month Centrocon arbitration clause should be given a literal construction, so that claims or disputes that had not even arisen within the stipulated period were nonetheless time-barred. Sir Richard Field, acting as a judge of the High Court, did likewise, noting that the words in the arbitration clauses were clear and ambiguous and should be given the same construction as was given in the Centrocon cases.

Time could be extended under s.12 of the Arbitration Act 1996 if it were just, but the applicant would need to have acted expeditiously and in a commercially appropriate fashion to commence proceedings once it became aware that a claim was being made against the applicant under the charterparty above or below in the chain.  Q had done so by appointing their arbitrator on 17 November, and were granted an  extension but this was not the case with P who had appointed  their arbitrator on 25 November, nor with R who had appointed their arbitrator on 1 December.

 

 

EU anti-suit injunctions don’t rule — OK?

Confirmation from Males J today in Nori Holdings Ltd & Ors v PJSC Bank Otkritie [2018] EWHC 1343 (Comm)  of what we all suspected: you can’t injunct EU / Lugano proceedings in support of arbitration. The facts aren’t that interesting. Essentially an ailing Russian bank was seeking to undo the effects of a debt restructuring agreement entered into with a number of its borrowers and their sureties, members of the O1 group. To that end it sued in Russia and Cyprus. The present claimants, borrowers and sureties, sought anti-suit injunctions on the basis that the claims were the subject of valid arbitration agreements. It got injunctions in respect of the Russian proceedings; we say no more.

As for the Cypriot proceedings, the bank understandably invoked West Tankers Inc v Allianz SpA (Case C-185/07) [2009] ECR I-00663 and its holding that any intra-EU anti-suit proceedings unacceptably infringed EU full faith and credit under the then Brussels I, not to mention EU courts’ powers to decide on their own jurisdiction. The claimants countered, as might be expected, with the slightly curious remarks of the Advocate-General in the Gazprom OAO case (Case C-536/13) that suggested Recital (12) in Brussels I Recast had cast doubt on the West Tankers holding. Males J subjected the reasoning of the Advocate-General to searching scrutiny at [84]-[99]. His conclusion, though judicious, was pretty blunt: the Advocate-General was simply wrong. There was no room for any inference of an intent to depart from West Tankers.

So now we know. Professors may have lost a useful examination question: but for the rest of us, we know where we stand. And a good thing too.

Arbitration just got easier

The Court of Appeal today got rid of a decision that has bugged arbitration lawyers for some 18 years.

An XL insurance policy contained an arbitration clause as follows: “Unless the parties otherwise agree the arbitration tribunal shall consist of persons with not less than ten years’ experience of insurance or reinsurance.” Question: was a senior insurance silk with rather more than ten years’ experience in insurance (since you ask, in this case it was the redoubtable Alastair Schaff QC) eligible?

The answer was No,  according to Morison J’s unreported 2000 decision in Company X v Company Y (17 July 2000): experience of insurance was (his Lordship had said) not the same thing as experience in insurance law. Nonsense, said the Court of Appeal in Allianz Insurance Plc & Anor v Tonicstar Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 434. Experience in insurance was perfectly wide enough a phrase to encompass experience gained by prectising insurance law. True, in some cases there might be a clear divide between an area of life and the law relating to it (sport and sports law, for example): but not so with insurance. Nor was the Court worried that the earlier decision had stood for 18 years: error ought to be corrected, and little if any injustice would be caused if it was.

So there you have it. Arbitration books will be that bit shorter in future — and, in the view of us at Maricom, a good thing too.

Ultra vires or ineffective: a no-nonsense approach to contractual effectiveness

A short technical point of interest especially to those dealing with foreign state or semi-state entities arises out of a decision of Andrew Baker J a week ago in Exportadora De Sal SA De CV v Corretaje Maritimo Sud-Americano Inc [2018] EWHC 224 (Comm).

The power of a Ruritanian state corporate entity  to conclude a contract is governed by the law of the place of incorporation, i.e. Ruritania. The validity of the contract, and whether anything has happened which has the effect of preventing the parties being liable, or discharging an existing duty, is controlled by the governing law of the contract: if there’s an English law and jurisdiction clause, this means English law, to the exclusion of Ruritanian. But where is the boundary between the two?

A Mexican 51/49 state/private entity contracted for the building of a self-unloading salt barge (don’t say you don’t learn about interesting gadgets on Maricom) for about $27 million. The contract specified English law and London arbitration. The Mexican entity broke its contract, and following arbitration went down for about $7 million.  However the builders, when they tried to enforce the award, encountered a plea that the Mexican entity concerned had had no power under Mexican law to contract for the barge except through a specified tender process; that this hadn’t happened, that there had indeed been a Mexican administrative decision to cancel the contract on that basis, and that this nullified not only the contract but any submission to the arbitral process contained within it.

Andrew Baker J gave the buyers short shrift for a number of reasons we need not go into here. As regards the no-power argument, however, he made the important point that it was a non-starter. Although possibly dressed up as an ultra vires point, it was really nothing of the sort: viewed as a matter of substance it was a question of substantive validity. Substantive validity being governed by English law, the fact that under Mexican law the contract had been declared entirely ineffective was simply beside the point. As his Lordship observed, this decision was merely a mirror-image of the earlier Haugesund Kommune et al. v Depfa ACS Bank [2012] QB 549, where an ostensibly validity-orirnted rule had been held on a proper construction actually to go to the vires of a contracting party. But  the Exportadora de Sal case is none the less a useful weapon in the armoury of an English international commercial lawyer faced with an impressive-sounding plea that an apparently English contract was ultra vires under the laws of Backofbeyondia.

 

 

Service of arbitration proceedings in cyberspace — don’t make idle assumptions.

In Glencore Agriculture BV v Conqueror Holdings Ltd [2017] EWHC 2893 (Comm), decided today, Conqueror had a smallish demurrage claim in respect of a 30,000 dwt bulker, the Amity, which charterers Glencore had ordered to wait idle for a time before taking on a cargo of corn at Ilychevsk in Ukraine. Glencore’s point of contact with Conqueror in arranging the nuts and bolts of loading and dealing with the delay had been one FO, a fairly junior Glencore man: not surprisingly all messages had been sent by email to and from FO’s Glencore email address.

There was an arbitration clause in the (Synacomex) charter. To get the arbitration ball rolling for its demurrage claim, Conqueror sent notice of its appointment of an arbitrator to FO’s email address (but nowhere else). Nothing happened, despite a number of reminders sent to the same address: in the event Conqueror’s arbitrator determined the claim in Conqueror’s favour as sole arbitrator.

Glencore applied for a declaration that the award did not bind it, under s 72 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (and also ss 67-68 of the same Act). Had there been proper service? Popplewell J said No. The issue in an arbitration case fell to be decided on ordinary principles of agency. FO, being a fairly junior dogsbody in the Glencore corporate machine, had neither express nor implied authority to receive formal service of claims: nor had there been any holding out of him as having it, merely because he had made the arrangements for the loading.

Entirely correct, in the view of this blog. And one doesn’t have to be very sympathetic to Conqueror. They could always have used old-fashioned snailmail sent to Glencore’s head office: see s 76(4(b) of the Act. It seems, with respect, that someone at Conqueror just indolently assumed that it would do to email a contact in the company he happened to have dealt with before. That won’t, and shouldn’t, do. One more simple point for solicitors acting for arbitration parties to add to their checklist.

Moral: don’t arbitrate in Russia if you can help it

Decided eight weeks ago but just up on Bailii, the arbitration decision in Maximov v Open Joint Stock Company “Novolipetsky Metallurgichesky Kombinat” [2017] EWHC 1911 (Comm) is worth a brief note. Having sold a company to a buyer and faced a dispute as to the price, Nikolai Maximov got an arbitral award from a Russian tribunal for some 8 billion roubles (then about $250 million). A Russian court then proceeded at the buyer’s request to annul the award on very doubtful grounds, including those not raised by the parties. Two appeals failed. The seller sued in England under the New York Convention and at common law to enforce the award: to the buyer’s plea that the award had been set aside, the seller asked the court not to enforce that judgment on the basis that it must have been biased. Despite very grave suspicions about the propriety, let alone the correctness, of the Russian judgment, and despite evidence that the Russian judicial system left a great deal to be desired, especially when (as here) the Russian government had a strong interest in reducing or eliminating the award, the judge, Sir Michael Burton, was clear that this was not enough. Perverse and very suspicious it might be, but even here his Lordship was unable to draw the inference that the only explanation was bias.

Two further points for future reference. At [16] the judge expressed the view that a judgment given on one point out of evident bias would probably not be upheld even if there was another ground for the judgment that was not successfully challenged on that ground. And at [64] he strongly doubted a subsidiary argument by the defendant that once a court with jurisdiction had annulled an award that was an end of the matter however biased the court, since there would simply be nothing to enforce. And rightly so, we suggest: apart from anything else, the moral hazard that such a rule would engender is fairly obvious.

As we said at the beginning, arbitrate in Russia very much at your own risk.

 

Compensation for the unlawful arrest and detention of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew

Arbitral Tribunal orders the Russian Federation to pay a little under 5,4 million euros to the Netherlands

On 18 July 2017, almost two years after that an Arbitral Tribunal (Tribunal) found that the Russian Federation must compensate the Netherlands following the wrongful arrest of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew, the Tribunal handed down its Award on the issue of compensation.

Background

Before looking at this recent decision in more in depth, the history of the dispute will be laid out. Starting on 18 September 2013, when Greenpeace activists tried to enter the Russian offshore oil platform (the Prirazlomnaya) in order to protest against attempts to begin exploiting oil and gas resources in the Arctic. One day later, the Russian Federation boarded and arrested the Arctic Sunrise and detained its crew. Subsequently, the vessel was brought to the port of Murmansk and the crew was charged with having committed a range of administrative and criminal offences, including acts of terrorism and hooliganism.

The Netherlands initiates Proceedings before an Arbitral Tribunal 

Some two weeks later, on 4 October 2013, The Netherlands, being the flag State of the Arctic Sunrise, started proceedings before an Arbitral Tribunal that was established pursuant to Annex VII of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The Russian Federation refused to participate in the Arbitral proceedings that were initiated by the Netherlands. The position of the Russian Federation was, that this type of dispute was beyond the jurisdiction of an international court or tribunal, due to a declaration it had made at the time of becoming a party to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. However, the proceedings went ahead, despite the non-participation of the Russian Federation.

The Netherlands requests Interim Measures from the ITLOS

On 21 October 2013, the Netherlands requested interim measures from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). According to the Netherlands, the Russian Federation had to immediately release the Arctic Sunrise and its crew, after the posting of a bond, upon which they would be free to leave Russian territory as well as any maritime areas under its jurisdiction. ITLOS gave an Order on interim measures on 22 November 2013. Initially, the Russian Federation did not comply with the Order of the ITLOS – eventually, however, the vessel and crew were released in late November 2013. The Russian release of vessel and crew was based on its national laws, the Order of the ITLOS played no decisive role in this, according to the Russian Federation  – as it happened, the effect of the national laws and regulations on which the Russian Federation relied, coincided with what was set out by the ITLOS in its Order containing interim measures.

Arbitral Award on the Merits

One of the main substantive issues on which the Arbitral Tribunal was asked to rule during the merits phase, was the (un)lawfulness of the response of the Russian Federation to the presence of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew. The gist of the argument of the Netherlands was that, as the flag State, it had sole jurisdiction over the ship and the crew on-board during the entirety of this incident (Article 58 of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention). On 14 August 2015, the Tribunal released its Award on the merits. The Arbitral Tribunal found that the Netherlands had exclusive jurisdiction over the Arctic Sunrise whilst it was operating in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation. This means that the Russian Federation could have only lawfully initiated steps against the vessel that was flagged to the Netherlands and its crew with the latter’s consent. After coming to this conclusion, the Tribunal went on to state that the Netherlands had to be compensated.

Arbitral Award on Compensation

In its recent Award on compensation, the Tribunal set the total amount of compensation owed by the Russian Federation to the Netherlands at a little under 5,4 million euros. This sum was arrived at by adding up the damage that was done to the Arctic Sunrise (EUR 1,695,126.18); compensation related to the unlawful arrest, prosecution and detention of its crew (EUR 600,000); a variety of other damages incurred by the Netherlands, including the failure to release the vessel and crew in a timely manner (EUR 2,461,935.43); costs made by the Netherlands in issuing a bank guarantee (EUR 13,500); and lastly, the Netherlands had to be reimbursed for paying the full amount of deposits required by the Tribunal (EUR 625,000) – meaning that the Russian Federation had to pay the half it owed of the costs that were needed for the proceedings to be initiated. Although the Russian Federation is required under international law to abide by the ruling on compensation, whether it will actually do so remains to be seen.

 

Arbitration post-Brexit

The Lord Chief Justice a couple of days ago gave a bullish speech in Beijing about London as an arbitration centre post-Brexit. Despite the self-serving nature of the speech, one suspects he may well be right. At least post-Brexit we should with a bit of luck get shot of the ECJ control over jurisdiction; be able to abandon The Front Comor [2009] EUECJ C-185/07, [2009] 1 AC 1138 and go back to issuing anti-suit injunctions against Euro-proceedings that infringe London arbitration agreements; and possibly get rid of tiresome Brussels I provisions that make life difficult for P&I clubs which want to insist on arbitrating here (see, for details, this post). But as usual, to know the details we have to wait and see.

A matter of construction. Conflicting arbitration and jurisdiction clauses in time charter.

 

In London Arbitration 12/17 the tribunal considered a conflict as to law and jurisdiction arose under two clauses in a time charter. Clause 31, headed ‘Law and Arbitration’ provided for mediation and, if the dispute could not be resolved within sixty days, by reference to a single arbitrator, with arbitration to be “[h]eld at London, UK and…conducted in accordance with relevant acts and rules there under excluding any laws, opinions, or regulations that would require application of the laws of any other jurisdiction.” The parties appointed their own arbitrators and a third was appointed by the President of the London Maritime Arbitrators Association (LMAA). Charterers then raised the point that the contract was not subject to arbitration but rather to Egyptian law and jurisdiction pursuant to cl. 21, headed, APPLICABLE LAW, which provided: “This Contract and the relationship of the parties hereunder shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Egypt and parties hereby agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the Egyptian Courts in Cairo.”

The tribunal had to decide, under its general power to make a finding on its own jurisdiction, which clause, as a matter of construction  more closely expressed the intentions of the parties. The tribunal found in favour of cl.31 which appeared under the more all-embracing heading: “Law and Arbitration”, whereas Clause 21 appeared under the heading “Applicable Law”, no reference being made in the heading to jurisdiction. Further the reference in clause 31 to   attempts at settlement as a prelude to arbitration did not sit with an intention for the Egyptian courts to have jurisdiction.

Arbitrating against a dead defendant. Section 18 to the rescue?

Silver Dry Bulk v Homer Hulbert Maritime [2017] EWHC 44 (Comm) involved an arbitration where the defendant had ceased to exist by the time arbitration was commenced. Silver Dry Bulk Company Ltd, a Maltese company and a 100% subsidiary of General National Maritime Transportation Company (“GNMTC”), the Libyan national maritime company had bought a vessel from Homer Hulbert Maritime, a Marshall Islands company, which was a 100% subsidiary within the Sinokor group of companies, a Korean ship owner and operator. Silver Dry claimed that part of the purchase price represented a secret commission to one of Colonel Gaddaffi’s sons who at the time had complete control over GNMTC.

Shortly after completion of the sale Homer Hulbert filed articles of dissolution. Under the law of the Marshall Islands a dissolved company is kept alive for three years for the puposes of prosecuting suits by or against them. After expiry of that time Silver Dry commenced arbitration against Homer Hulbert. The arbitration clause in the sale contract provided:  “On the receipt by one party of the nomination in writing of the other party’s arbitrator, that party shall appoint their arbitrator within fourteen days, failing which the decision of the single arbitrator appointed shall apply.” Receiving no response from the dead company, after 14 days Silver Dry constituted their arbitrator as sole arbitrator. They claimed  that Homer Hulbert continued  to survive sufficiently for the purpose of being the defendant to a claim in arbitration, an issue which it wanted to be decided by the sole arbitrator, applying the principle of kompetenz-kompetenz.  The ultimate intent behind the proceedings seems to have been to go against the Korean parent company

To avoid wasting time and expense of arbitrating if the arbitration were subsequently turn out to be a nullity, Silver Dry asked the court the court should make an order under section 18(3) of the Arbitration Act 1996 directing that the arbitral tribunal has been validly constituted.  The provision gives the Court power to (a) give directions as to the making of any necessary appointments;(b) direct that the tribunal shall be constituted by such appointments (or any one or more of them) as have been made; (c) to revoke any appointments already made;(d) to make any necessary appointments itself

Teare J refused to make such an order.  When there is an issue whether a tribunal would have jurisdiction, it has been held that the court has power to make the orders listed in section 18(3) if the claimant can satisfy the test of showing a good arguable case. However, these powers can only be exercised if there has been “a failure of the procedure for the appointment of the arbitral tribunal”. That will not be the case if the procedure has operated in the way that it was supposed to, albeit without the cooperation of one of the parties. Here the appointment procedure had worked as contemplated by the parties’ agreement, with the claimant’s nominee automatically becoming sole arbitrator after 14 days, for which no assistance from the court was required.

Silver Dry also applied under section 44 for the issue of Letters of Request directed to the Korean courts for the production of emails between specified individuals or email accounts, connected with the negotiation of the sale, for a limited period. Teare J refused to make such an order. The issue of a Letter of Request would require him  to make a representation to the foreign court that (1) there was, or at the very least there probably was, an arbitration in existence for the purpose of which production of the documents is requested and (2) the documents were required for the purpose of the arbitration. He was not able to do so as the issue of the continued existence of Home Hulbert remained to be decided.  The position might be different if the sole arbitrator had expressed a view that production of the documents was necessary in order for there to be a fair resolution of the issues in the arbitration, but this was not the case.