P v Q, Q v R, R v S  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  2 Lloyd’s Rep 353 and in The Stephanos  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.