BIMCO Piracy Clause (2009) and duty to proceed with due despatch

 

 

In London Arbitration 13/18 the vessel was time chartered under a charter on NYPE form which incorporated the BIMCO Piracy Clause for Time Charter Parties (March 2009). This provides:.

(c) If the Owners consent or if the Vessel proceeds to or through an area exposed to risk of piracy the Owners shall have the liberty:

(i) to take reasonable preventive measures to protect the vessel, her crew and cargo including but not limited to taking a reasonable alternative route, proceeding in convoy, using escorts, avoiding day or night navigation, adjusting speed or course, or engaging security personnel or equipment on or about the vessel,

 

Owners employed armed guards and purchased additional security equipment when proceeding through an area exposed to risk of piracy, in this case the Gulf of Aden. Charterers contended that the options in paragraph (c)(ii) of the Piracy Clause were disjunctive so that owners could not recover both costs. The Tribunal disagreed and held that the clause made it clear that the owners were not so limited and could recover both costs. However, owners’ liberty to take ‘reasonable preventive measures’ did not justify their decision to proceed via a route which skirted the border of the high risk area, and constituted a breach of their obligation under cl. 8 to prosecute voyages with due despatch. The vessel employed armed guards for the fourth voyage and had installed a new set of protective materials and had the maximum level of security measures as set out under Best Management Practices 4 for Gulf of Aden Transits, Somalia Transits and Indian Ocean Transits. It was unreasonable to route the vessel in such a way that there would be no chance of interference from pirates and the owners were in breach of cl.8 for which the charterers were awarded damages in hire and fuel costs.

 

A further issue arose as to owners’ right to claim crew war bonuses from charterers. Clause 57 provided that when trading in the Gulf of Aden the crew war bonus if any was to be for charterers’ account. Owners claimed that the only condition was that the war bonus must actually have been paid to the crew. However, the Tribunal pointed to the BIMCO Piracy Clause which provided:

(d) Costs…

(ii) If the Owners become liable under the terms of employment to pay to the crew any bonus or additional wages in respect of sailing into an area which is dangerous in the manner defined by the said terms, then the actual bonus or additional wages paid shall be reimbursed to the owners by the charterers at the same time as the next payment of hire is due, or upon redelivery, whichever occurs first.

 

To be recoverable from charterers any bonus had to be one which owners were obliged to pay under the crew’s terms of employment. Here, the relevant terms provided that a bonus for transit of the Extended Risk Zone would be paid only if the vessel were attacked, which had not been the case. Accordingly, owners were not entitled to recover from charterers the bonus they had paid to the crew.

 

 

 

Meaning of ‘similar amendment’ in cl.8(b) of 1996 Inter-Club Agreement

Agile  Holdings Corporation v Essar Shipping Ltd [2018] EWHC 1055 (Comm) is a recent decision on the meaning of “similar amendment” in cl.8(b) of the 1996 Inter-Club Agreement (‘ICA’), in favour of the claimant shipowners, represented by IISTL’s Simon Rainey QC.

The “Maria” was time chartered for a single trip from Tunisia to India via Trinidad, carrying a consignment of direct reduced iron (“DRI”) which is  highly reactive and combustible in the presence of heat or water. During loading the cargo onto the vessel by means of a conveyor belt at Port Lisas, Trinidad, the belt was seen to have caught fire, but the appointed supercargo inspected the holds and advised that loading could continue. The cargo was still on fire during the voyage and cargo interests, an associated company of the charterers, brought a claim against the shipowners. In turn, they claimed a 100% indemnity from the charterers under the Inter-Club Agreement 1996 which was incorporated into the charter. The charter was on NYPE 1946 form, with an unamended cl.8, so under cl.8(b) of the ICA owners would be entitled to a 100% indemnity in respect of claims “in fact arising out of the loading, stowage, lashing, discharge, storage or other handling of cargo”.

The clause contains the proviso “ unless [1]  the words “and responsibility” are added in clause 8 [of the NYPE form]” to which the 1996 form added the words  “or there is a similar amendment making the Master responsible for cargo handling”, in which case a 50/50 split applies. Charterers pointed to cl.49 which provided “The Stevedores although appointed and paid by Charterers/Shippers/Receivers and or their Agents, to remain under the direction of the Master who will be responsible for proper stowage and seaworthiness and safety of the vessel…” and argued that this constituted a ‘similar amendment’. Charterers argued that  this would transfer back responsibility to the owners that aspect of cargo handling which was in fact in issue in the particular case. His Honour Judge Waksman QC rejected this, and held the required “similar amendment” must be one which would have the same effect as the addition of the words “any responsibility” and therefore, connotes the transfer of all aspects of cargo handling generally back to the Owner. He went on to observe that Clause 49 only transferred back responsibility for stowage, and probably only stowage affecting the seaworthiness or safety of the vessel. A transfer back of stowage only did not connote any transfer back of other cargo handling responsibilities.

What constitutes a ‘claim’ under stakeholder proceedings? The CV Stealth (again).

 

 

The CV Stealth involved the lengthy detention of the vessel in Venezuela while waiting to load cargo, pursuant to time charterers’ orders. This resulted in claims for  hire during this period by head owners against the bareboat charterers and indemnity claims by the bareboat charterers against the time charterers.  The bareboat charter remains in force, although the vessel was redelivered under the time charter in 2015. The case has already come before the Commercial Court on two occasions (reported in this blog on May 24th 2016  and  November 16th 2017).  It has now come back for a third time, ST shipping and Transport Pte Ltd & Ors v. Space Shipping Ltd, Psara Energy Ltd [2018] EWHC 156 (Comm), with an issue as to what constitutes a ‘claim’ for the purposes of stakeholder proceedings under CPR Rule 86.1 which provides: “ This Part contains rules which apply where — a person is under a liability in respect of a debt or in respect of any money, goods or chattels; and competing claims are made or expected to be made against that person in respect of that debt or money or for those goods or chattels by two or more persons.”

The time charterers had become subject to an award under which they were to pay $6.4m to disponent owners. They then became notified by head owners of an assignment in their favour by disponent owners of $1,787,375 reflecting 181 days’ hire under the bareboat charter. Disponent owners subsequently made a claim for the full of the award of $6.4m  under a letter of undertaking that had been issued by Glencore, as guarantors for time charterers. The demand took no account of the assignment effected in favour of head owners, and Glencore and time charterers issued stakeholder proceedings in respect of US$6.4m held by time charterers’ solicitors. Disponent owners then accepted that the sum representing 181 days hire which had been the subject of the assignment could be paid out to head owners.

However, charterers did not accept that they had now received the “all clear” to pay the balance to disponent owners. First, a dispute remained between head owners and disponent owners as to the scope of the assignment although this was swiftly decided against head owners in the third arbitration. Secondly, the head owners then obtained from the US District Court of Connecticut a Rule B attachment order which attached or garnished “the debts of [the charterers] to [the disponent owners]”, in support of their claims against the  disponent owners totalling some US$19.6m. The head owners then gave notice of the order to the time charterers pursuant to which they said that the charterers were directed to “attach and freeze and all tangible or intangible property and/or assets held for the benefit of [the disponent owners]”.  Head owners claimed that this gave then a proprietary claim over time charterers’ debt to the disponent owners. The order was subsequently vacated on charterers’ application of the grounds that as the court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over charterers, property held by the charterers were outside the jurisdiction of the court. Head owners appealed against the decision. Charterers resisted the payment out of the sums in the stakeholder account because there was still the risk of a double payment, if head owners’ appeal in the Rule B proceedings were successful.

The matter came before the Commercial Court and Teare J had to decide whether there was a stakeholder claim within CPR Part 86. The disponent owners submitted that this stakeholder claim was not within CPR Part 86 because there were no “competing claims ”.  First, the disponent owners did not have a claim, but, rather, an arbitration award. The disponent owners relied on Stevenson & Son v Brownell [1912] 2 Ch 344 and the note in the White Book at 86.1.2 based upon that case to the effect that “claim” in interpleader or stakeholder actions did not extend to concluded claims where judgment has been obtained . Second, Part 86 requires or envisages proceedings in the English court, whereas here the Rule B proceedings had been commenced in Connecticut, not in in England. Teare J rejected both contentions and held that there was a ‘claim’ within CPR Part 86. The context of Part 86 did not require ‘claim’ to be limited to proceedings before an English court and a competing claim could be one that was made in another jurisdiction. The present case was distinguishable from Stevenson, a case involving two competing claims to royalties, one of which had ripened into a judgment. The present case did not concern rival claims by two persons claiming to be entitled to be paid hire under the time charterparty. Rather, head owners claimed a proprietary right by way of lien on the chose in action represented by the disponent owners’ right to payment of the award by the charterers. Furthermore, although the disponent owners were the beneficiaries of several arbitration awards they were not judgment creditors.

A further issue was whether Glencore were entitled to claim stakeholder relief as they had only been subject to one claim under the LOU, from the disponent owners. Teare J found that as the LOU was a contract of surety it was sensible that both the primary obligor and the surety were made party to the stakeholder claim.

Teare J then decided that the sum in the stakeholder account should be paid out to the disponent owners. There was no risk of time charterers being later ordered to pay the same sum to head owners if their Rule B appeal were to succeed. As party to the stakeholder claim, head owners were bound  by reason of the doctrine of res judicata by any order the court makes. The court’s order would estop them  from contending that they, rather than the disponent owners, were entitled to the debt owed by the charterers.

“Act” does not import culpability under cl.8(d) of ICA 1996. The Yangtze Xing Hua  

 

The Court of Appeal in The Yangtze Xing Hua  [2017] EWCA Civ 2107 has upheld the decision of Teare J that “act” in the phrase “act or neglect” in cl. 8 (d) of the 1996 Inter-Club Agreement means any act, whether culpable or not. The charterers, who had not been paid for the cargo, had ordered the vessel to remain off the Iranian discharge port for four months, during which time the cargo overheated, leading to a claim being brought against the owners, which they settled. Owners were entitled to recover the full amount of the settlement from charterers under the proviso to cl. 8(d): “unless there is clear and irrefutable evidence that the claim arose out of the act or neglect of the one or the other (including their servants or sub-contractors) in which case that party shall then bear 100% of the claim.”

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that the natural meaning of the word “act” was something which is done and did not connote culpability. “Neglect” did connote culpability but in the context of the ICA, which contained various provisions which applied regardless of culpability, this did not colour the meaning of “act”. Under cl.8 the critical question was that of causation, whether the claim “in fact” arose out of the act, operation or state of affairs described.

Causation and Contingencies. The CV Stealth, again.

In The CV Stealth [2016] EWHC 880 (Comm) an attempt by the sub-charterer to load a cargo of oil from Venezuela without the necessary export permission led to the detention of the vessel. Popplewell J upheld the arbitrator’s finding that the bareboat charterers could recover the resulting expenses from time charterers by way of an indemnity under cl. 13 of Shelltime 4 form. The time charterer’s employment order to load the cargo was the effective cause, or at least an effective cause of the detention of the vessel up to and including 21 July 2015.

The judicial detention of the vessel in Venezuela continued and on 25 May 2017 the Arbitrator issued a Fourth Partial Final Award awarding owners detention expenses and hire paid to the owners for the period after 21 July 2015, but subject to a provisional deduction of $1.4 m for saved drydocking expenses. The deduction was made because “as matters stand there must be a substantial possibility that the vessel will never, in her lifetime, be redelivered to the head owners and thus that the drydocking costs will never have to be borne by the owners here.”

The charterers appealed against the award on the grounds that in considering the issue of causation the arbitrator had merely asked himself whether anything had changed since his initial Partial Award. Charterers argued he should have asked whether the employment order continued to be an effective cause of the detention of the Vessel, or whether the sole effective cause of that detention eventually became the intractable and perverse refusal of the Venezuelan courts to order the release of the vessel as required by Venezuelan law.

Popplewell J held that the arbitrator had not misapplied the test for causation ([2017] EWHC 2808 (Comm). The arbitrator had already found that the employment order had causative potency up to 21 July 2015. The fact that the approach of the Venezuelan courts had not changed from then, could legitimately be taken as evidence that the chain of causation had not been broken; a finding confirmed by the arbitrator’s finding that the subsequent judicial behaviour was insufficient to “obliterate the original cause of the detention”, which reflected the language of the test in Borealis v Geogas [2011] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 482, [44], on when an effective cause will be replaced by another intervening cause.

The owners also appealed against the provisional deduction of saved drydocking expenses, arguing that deductions could only be made if there were a finding that there was a benefit and that the benefit was legally caused by the breach. Popplewell J dismissed the disponent owner’s appeal. The arbitrator had adopted a “wait and see” approach of considering loss by reference to events as they unfolded which was a permissible approach to the date of assessment of loss where its extent may depend upon future contingencies.

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.

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.

 

 

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).

 

 

Coincidentally Collateral or Causally Connected? Dancing around Post-Breach Benefits.

The New Flamenco (Globalia Business Travel SAU v Fulton Shipping Inc) [2017] UKSC 43

 SIMON RAINEY Q.C.

A Short Question of Fact?

An owner of an elderly cruise ship lets her on time charter, extended by two years. The charterer redelivers in 2007 the vessel two years early, in repudiatory breach of the charter. The owner accepts the breach and terminates the charter. The time charter market for an old lady like the ‘New Flamenco’ is non-existent. The owner decides to sell the vessel rather than to continue to trade her. The arbitrator finds variously “it would not have been possible for the Owners to conclude an alternative substitute two year time charterparty. The need to sell the vessel was clearly caused by the breach” and “in this case it was clear that the necessity for the sale had been brought about by the refusal to perform the two year extension”.

When the owner sells the vessel he (perhaps surprisingly) finds a buyer for her willing to pay US$23.7 million. Had the charterer performed the charterparty, the vessel would have been worth much less at the end of the two years in 2009: had the owner wanted to sell her then, it would have received only in the region of US$ 7 million.

Should the owner have to give credit to the charterer for the difference in value (23.7 – 7) against its claim for damages for loss of profit over the two years (based on the difference between the charter rate and spot and other employment)?

The dance (a minuet, rather than a flamenco perhaps) then began. The arbitrator held that the owner did have to give credit, in the light of his findings of fact. Popplewell J held that it did not. A strong Court of Appeal was of the same view as the arbitrator. A strong Supreme Court this week unanimously rejected that view and restored Popplewell J’s approach, holding that to oblige the owner to give credit was wrong in principle and wrong on the facts as found by the arbitrator.

The short answer of the Supreme Court (expressed succinctly in six paragraphs) was that while the breach and early redelivery was the occasion or ‘trigger’ for the owner’s sale of the vessel, it was not the legal cause of the sale taking place nor could the sale sensibly be described as a step taken by the owner in mitigating the loss of charter earnings over the two years.

The decision is important in focussing on what needs to be shown in terms of legal causation in the breach and mitigation contexts, rather than pointing simply at acts which are factually connected. It is also noteworthy in the way it demonstrates the tension on a section 69 Arbitration Act 1996 appeal between “findings of fact” and findings, which while expressed as ones of fact, are on proper analysis ones of law.

The To-and-fro of the Decisions Below

At first instance, Popplewell J had distilled no fewer than eleven principles after an extensive review of the cases: see [2014] EWHC 1547 (Comm) at [64]. Of these perhaps the most important are the first four, which stressed that for a benefit to be taken into account, the critical test was one of legal causation linking the reception or creation of the benefit with the breach, so that the breach is the actual legal cause of the benefit being conferred. The Judge regarded mitigation as governed by the same principles. As his fifth to eighth principles, he therefore analysed how the requirement of legal causation applies to mitigation, pointing out “The fact that a mitigating step, by way of action or inaction, may be a reasonable and sensible business decision with a view to reducing the impact of the breach, does not of itself render it one which is sufficiently caused by the breach. A step taken by the innocent party which is a reasonable response to the breach and designed to reduce losses caused thereby may be triggered by a breach but not legally caused by the breach” (citing The Elena d’Amico [1980] 1 Ll. Rep 75.)

The Judge disposed of the case on the basis that the difference in value of the vessel between the date of the sale and the date of the expiry of the two years had nothing to do with the breach: it was simply caused by the drop in the market which would have occurred anyway. Similarly, the effect of fluctuating market values for the capital value of the vessel was only produced by a decision to sell the vessel, which decision the owner could take and could have taken at any time, irrespective of the breach. If the owner could not be criticised if it had decided not to sell the vessel but chose to sit tight for two years, on the basis of a failure to mitigate, how could the sale which it chose to make be treated as “mitigation” caused by the breach? If it could not, then the benefit was not a benefit accruing from mitigation but was entirely collateral.

The Court of Appeal (Longmore, Christopher Clarke, Sales LJJ) approached the matter from a different standpoint. Its starting point was that “It is notoriously difficult to lay down principles of law in the realm of mitigation of loss particularly when it is said that a benefit received by a claimant is to be brought into account as avoiding the loss. The judge is to be commended for having tried to do so but his use of the word “indicative” is itself indicative that hard and fast principles are difficult to enunciate. In appeals from an arbitrator’s award a court has to be particularly respectful of the boundaries between fact and law which the parties, by their choice of tribunal, have created.” [20]

Thereafter, the Court of Appeal based itself on the arbitrator’s decision of the factual connection between the owner’s decision to sell the vessel as being a sufficient legal connection: “Viscount Haldane’s formulation in British Westinghouse that the benefit must ‘arise from the consequences of the breach’ remains, in my view, entirely apposite. The issue of mitigation arises when the breach has had harmful consequences which the injured party has taken steps to ameliorate … the finding of fact made by the arbitrator was in effect that the benefit did arise from the consequences of the breach” (Christopher Clarke LJ at [47-48].

The Reasoning of the Supreme Court

In the Supreme Court, Lord Clarke (with whom Lords Neuberger, Mance, Sumption and Hodge agreed) preferred the reasoning of Popplewell J. While, perhaps unhelpfully, the Court did not comment expressly on the ‘eleven point’ guide set out by the Judge, the Court’s adoption of the reasoning and result arrived at by him is likely to mean that parties are likely to go back to them as a stepped approach to similar post-breach benefit problems.

The Court stressed, as had the Judge, that the question was simply one of legal causation: was the post-breach benefit in law to be regarded as having been caused by the breach or by mitigation of the loss caused by the breach? It rejected the argument that to be legally relevant the benefit had to be ‘of the same kind’ as the loss. This was too vague and arbitrary a test. Causation alone is key.

Lord Clarke dealt first with the argument that the difference in value (23.7 – 7) was to be treated as a benefit to the owner because it was “the benefit of having avoided a loss” by the owner selling the vessel in 2007 rather than on redelivery in 2009.

The obvious fallacy in this way of putting the argument might be thought to be that the owner did not need to sell the vessel at any time, including at the end of the charter term. It was simply a matter of the owner’s commercial decision-making as to how and when it ran its capital book.  As Lord Clarke explained, the owner could not have claimed from the charterer as damages for its breach if the vessel would have been worth more in 2009 than in 2007. Further, why take 2009 as the date of comparison simply because it represented the end of the charter period when the owner could have continued to trade? The owner might not have sold then. While a premature termination might lead an owner to sell earlier than it would otherwise have done, that had nothing to do with the charterer: it was “the disposal of an interest in the vessel which no part of the subject matter of the charterparty and had nothing to do with the owners” [32].

Lord Clarke dealt next with the mitigation argument based on the sale being an act taken by the owner to mitigate the loss of hire resulting from the breach.

Here, rather than analyse the matter as the Judge did, from the starting point that the owner could not be faulted for not mitigating if he had chosen not to sell the vessel, therefore any sale he chose to do was not ‘mitigation’ properly understood, Lord Clarke focussed on the precise nature of the loss. The loss was the loss of an income stream under the charter. Realising the capital value of the vessel did not and could not mitigate the loss of that income stream which, irrespective of the sale, remained lost [34]. While it might be thought that the Court here looked at the nature of the benefit and the nature of the loss (having deprecated just such a test), the nature of the loss and the benefit may be relevant in a causation enquiry. As Popplewell J, who had similarly rejected the ‘of the same kind’ argument, pointed out: “There is no requirement that the benefit must be of the same kind as the loss being claimed or mitigated … but such a difference in kind may be indicative that the benefit is not legally caused by the breach” [64(8)] (emphasis added; this proposition was expressly approved by the Supreme Court at [30]).

The Court pointed out that a sale of the vessel might be relevant to the compensatory principle if it could be shown, for example, that the owner would have sold the vessel during the two years had the charterer performed, because then that would on Golden Victory principles cut down the period of loss. But that had nothing to do with a collateral decision by an owner, post breach, to sell his vessel on a poor trading market.

Conclusions

The decision, and the procedural history, shows the difficulty that may lie in distinguishing between an act taken post-breach from which the claimant benefits and an act which is legally to be viewed as caused by that breach.

Where mitigation is concerned, if the claimant was not obliged to take such a post-breach step at all, then it seems clear that if he does take it, the defendant cannot seek to bring the benefits of so doing into account.

Coda: the Arbitral Context

It was strongly argued that, as causation was a question of fact, to be approached in a commonsense way, the decision of the arbitrator (extracts from which as reported are cited above) was one which was not open to challenge. Popplewell J. accepted that “whether a benefit is caused by a breach is a question of fact and degree which must be answered by considering all the relevant circumstances in order to form a commonsense overall judgment on the sufficiency of the causal nexus between breach and benefit” [64(9)] but considered that the arbitrator had simply gone wrong in treating things as sufficiently ‘caused’ when in law they could not be so regarded. Lord Clarke endorsed this approach at [24].

This gives rise to the apparent oddity of an arbitrator finding that the sale of the vessel was in consequence of and resulted from the breach and was a step taken by the owner to prevent loss from not being able to trade the vessel but this “not [being] legally sufficient to establish the necessary causative link between breach and benefit”.

The Court of Appeal decision in SPAR SHIPPING: Defining an owner’s remedies for non-payment of hire and resolving the Astra ‘condition’ debate

SIMON RAINEY QC

When the Court of Appeal handed down judgment late last year in Grand China Logistics Holding (Group) Co Ltd v Spar Shipping AS [2016] EWCA Civ 982, dismissing an appeal by unsuccessful time charterers, it determined the controversial question of whether a charterer’s failure to pay an instalment of hire punctually and in advance under a time charterparty is a breach of condition, entitling the shipowner to terminate the charter and claim damages for the loss of the balance of the charterparty.

The Court of Appeal (Sir Terence Etherton MR, Gross and Hamblen LJJ) unanimously held that the answer to that question is “no” and that, without more, such a failure merely entitles the shipowner to withdraw the vessel from service in accordance with the withdrawal clause.

The decision, for all practical purposes, finally resolves an issue which has attracted much market interest and generated conflicting observations from judges of the highest standing. It also reviews modern principles applicable to the proper classification of a contract term as a condition.

The leading judgment of Gross LJ also contains a valuable summary of the legal principles relating to renunciation in the context of late and non-payment of hire under time charterparties.

The Court of Appeal firmly rejected a novel argument by the appellant time charterers that the test for renunciation by time charterers in relation to defaults in payment of hire (whether by late or short payment) was applied too strictly (“unwarrantably severe”) and was out of step with the Court’s approach in other non-payment contexts under different types of contract, thereby amounting to unjustified “preferential treatment” for shipowners under time charters.

Simon Rainey QC, Nevil Phillips and Natalie Moore appeared for the successful respondent owners.

Headline Summary of the Decision

  1. The obligation to pay hire under a time charterparty is not a condition but an innominate or intermediate term. Flaux J’s decision to the contrary in The Astra [2013] EWHC 865 (Comm) was wrong.

  1. The obligation to pay hire promptly and in advance under a time charterparty lay at the heart of the contractual bargain represented by such a charterparty. Late and short payment would unilaterally convert a contract for payment in advance into a transaction for unsecured credit and without any provision for the payment of interest: such conduct went to the root of the contract, was renunciatory and entitled an owner to terminate.

  1. While therefore removing the availability of a condition from the shipowner’s arsenal of remedies for non-payment of hire, the Court of Appeal has roundly endorsed the critical importance of prompt and full payment of hire in advance, and has emphatically highlighted the risks which a time-charterer takes in making payment late or in missing payments, however much it protests that it wishes or intends to perform or perform better.

  1. If an owner wishes to be able to terminate for any failure to pay hire – irrespective of renunciation or repudiation – and claim damages in addition, it will now have to contract on special terms to this effect (cf. the hire provisions in the new NYPE 2015 form which so provide).

The Decision in More Detail

The facts

The Respondent (“Spar”) owned three supramax bulk carriers: SPAR CAPELLA, SPAR VEGA and SPAR DRACO. By three charterparties dated 5 March 2010 on amended NYPE 1993 forms, Spar agreed to let the vessels on long term time charter to Grand China Shipping (Hong Kong) Co Ltd (“GCS”). The Appellant (“GCL”) guaranteed GCS’s performance under the charterparties by three letters of guarantee dated 25 March 2010.

From April 2011, GCS was in arrears of payment of hire. There remained substantial arrears of hire on all three vessels over the summer of 2011 and GCS continued to miss payments or be late in making payment. But GCS protested that everything would be sorted out and that a financial solution was in the offing, and it made some payments on time.

Spar called on GCL to make payment under the guarantees on 16 September 2011. GCL failed to make payment, and Spar withdrew the vessels from service.

At the date of termination, the SPAR VEGA and the SPAR CAPELLA charterparties each had about four years left to run. The unexpired term of the SPAR DRACO charterparty was about 18 months.

Spar brought a claim against GCL under the guarantees.

At first instance, Popplewell J held that payment of hire by GCS in accordance with clause 11 of the charterparties was not a condition, disagreeing with the judgment of Flaux J in The Astra [2013] EWHC 865 (Comm). However, he concluded that GCS had renounced the charterparties and that Spar was entitled to US$24 million in damages for loss of bargain in respect of the unexpired terms of the charterparties.

GCL appealed, contending that the Judge erred in holding that GCS had renounced the charterparties, applying too strict a test which was out of step with other non-payment contexts.  It was argued that, looking at the overall benefit to be expected over the whole life of the charterparties, some short or late payments could not be said to be renunciatory. Spar argued that the Judge was right on the renunciation issue. By way of Respondent’s Notice, Spar contended that judgment should have been given in its favour on the additional ground that payment of hire by GCS in accordance with clause 11 was a condition.

The Reasoning of the Court of Appeal

(1) The Condition Issue

The Court held that the obligation to make punctual payment of hire was not a condition in standard form charterparties and that The Astra was wrongly decided.

Gross LJ’s reasons were these:

  1. The inclusion of the express withdrawal clause did not provide a strong or any indication that clause 11 was a condition. Historically, withdrawal clauses were included in charterparties to put beyond argument the shipowner’s entitlement to terminate the charterparty where the charterer had failed to make a timely payment of hire. As such, the withdrawal clause merely furnishes owners with an express contractual option to terminate on the occurrence of the event specified in the clause. Thus, the mere presence of a withdrawal clause gives no indication as to the consequences intended by the parties to flow from the exercise of the contractual termination clause.

  1. The most pertinent guidance from the authorities in the present context was the need not to be “too ready” to interpret clause 11 as a condition – indeed only to do so if the charterparties, on their true construction, made it clear that clause 11 was to be so classified: see Bunge v Tradax [1981] 1 WLR 711. As a matter of contractual construction, the charterparties did not make it clear that clause 11 was to be categorised as a condition. Clause 11 did not expressly make time of the essence. Not did it spell out the consequences of breach (in contrast to the NYPE 2015 form). Furthermore, breaches of clause 11 could range from the very trivial to the grave.

  1. Any general presumption of time being of the essence in mercantile contracts was not of significance or assistance in the present case. First, there was only limited scope for general presumptions in the specific, detailed and specialist context of payment of charterparty hire. Secondly, any presumption that time is generally of the essence in mercantile (or commercial) contracts does not generally apply to the time of payment, unless a different intention appears from the terms of the contract.

  1. The anti-technicality clause does not strengthen the case for the timely payment of hire being a condition of the charterparties. The anti-technicality clause does no more and no less than protect the charterers from the serious consequences of a withdrawal in the case of a failure to pay hire on “technical grounds”.

  1. Considerations of certainty are of major importance in the commercial context. But it is a question of striking the right balance. Classifying a contractual provision as a condition has advantages in terms of certainty; in particular, the innocent party is entitled to loss of bargain damages (such as they may be) regardless of the state of the market. Where, however, the likely breaches of an obligation may have consequences ranging from the trivial to the serious, then the downside of the certainty achieved by classifying an obligation as a condition is that trivial breaches will have disproportionate consequences. Considerable certainty could still be achieved by clause 11 being a contractual termination option. The trade-off between the attractions of certainty and the undesirability of trivial breaches carrying the consequences of a breach of condition is most acceptably achieved by treating clause 11 as a contractual termination option.

  1. The general view of the market has been that the obligation to make timely payments of hire is not a condition.

Hamblen LJ agreed with Gross LJ and added further observations of his own.

Of particular importance, is Hamblen LJ’s conclusion that it is not necessary to construe the obligation to pay hire timeously as a condition in order to give it commercial effect on the grounds that it is the owner’s only real protection in a falling market.

As Gross LJ also observed, certainty is provided by the withdrawal clause and there may be good reasons to invoke the clause notwithstanding a falling market (e.g. where the charterers are insolvent or owners depend on prompt payment to fund payments under a head charter or charterers’ payment record occasions administrative or other difficulties).

The Court was not, therefore, persuaded by the “provisional view” expressed by Lord Phillips in the Cedric Barclay Lecture 2015 that the obligation to pay hire is a condition because otherwise the right to withdraw would be “worthless” in a falling market.

Sir Terence Etherton MR agreed with both judgments. He summarised his conclusions on the Condition Issue in three propositions:

  1. There is no authority binding on the Court of Appeal as to whether or not the stipulated time for payment of hire in each of the charterparties was a condition.

  1. Whether the time payment stipulation was a condition is a question of interpretation of each of the charters. However, there is some authority to the broad effect that, in the absence of a clear indication to the contrary, the court leans against the interpretation of a contractual term as a condition (viz. Bunge v Tradax).

  1. The time payment stipulation was, on the proper interpretation of the charters, an innominate term. There is no presumption in a mercantile contract that a stipulated time for payment is a contractual condition. There is, in any event, no scope for any such presumption in the present case in view of the comprehensive terms of the charterparties.

(2) The Renunciation Issue

At [73] – [78] Gross LJ reviewed the authorities on the test for renunciation generally and in the specific context of the payment of hire under time charterparties.

He focused on the fact that the test for repudiatory breach and renunciation (i.e. anticipatory breach) has been described in different ways in the cases: e.g. an actual or threatened breach which deprives the innocent party of substantially the whole benefit of the contract; an actual or threatened breach which deprives the innocent party of a substantial part of the benefit of the contract; an actual or threatened breach which goes to the root of the contract; conduct evincing an intention to perform in a manner substantially inconsistent with the contract.

Considering recent extra-judicial statements as to the differences in these formulations and the unsatisfactory nature of a “goes to the root of the contract test”, Gross LJ held that the differences simply reflect the different facts and circumstances of the various cases, especially the terms of the particular contract in question, and the Court endorsed the “root of the contract” test as “useful and readily capable of application; a search for a more precise test is unlikely to be fruitful” [76].

In the time charterparty context, the Court endorsed and applied Spar’s suggested three stage analysis:

First, what was the contractual benefit Spar was intended to obtain from the charterparties?

Secondly, what was the prospective non-performance foreshadowed by GCS’s words and conduct?

Thirdly, was the prospective non-performance such as to go to the root of the contract?

Applying the law to the facts he concluded that:

  1. Prompt and full payment of hire in advance lay at the heart of the bargain between owner and time charterer: “the essence of the bargain under a time charterparty that the shipowner is entitled to the regular, periodical payment of hire as stipulated, in advance of performance, so long as the charterparty continues; hire is payable in advance to provide a fund from which shipowners can meet the expenses of rendering the services they have undertaken to provide under the charterparty; shipowners are not obliged to perform the services on credit; they do so only against advance payment” [83].

  1. The test for prospective non-performance was whether “a reasonable owner in the position of Spar (the formulation adopted in Universal Cargo Carriers v Citati [1957] 2 QB 401, at p. 436) could have no, certainly no realistic, expectation that GCS would in the future pay hire punctually in advance”. It was not enough that the charterer was willing to pay hire but in arrears or late. The Judge’s analysis, findings and conclusions with regard to renunciation could not properly be criticised.

  1. Given the history of late payments, the amounts and delays involved, together with the absence of any concrete or reliable assurance from GCS/GCL as to the future, the Judge was amply entitled to conclude that GCS had renounced the charterparties [87]. Gross LJ made the following important statements:

  1. “[GCS’s] prospective non-performance would unilaterally convert a contract for payment in advance into a transaction for unsecured credit and without any provision for the payment of interest.”

  1. “Taken to their logical conclusion, [GCS’s] submissions would mean that charterers could hold owners to the contracts by stating that all payments of hire would be made but late and in arrears – leaving owners obliged to accept this limping performance and attendant uncertainty. In my view, that is not the law, at least in this context.”

  1. “For the avoidance of doubt, whichever test is adopted the answer would be the same; thus I am satisfied that GCS’s evinced intention would deprive Spar of “substantially the whole benefit” of the charterparties and, for that matter, that GCS would be seeking to hold Spar to an arrangement “radically different” from that which had been agreed (the test for frustration).”

In the Master of the Rolls’ words (at [103]), GCS’s conduct “evinced an intention to turn each of the contracts into something radically different from its terms, namely from a contract for payment in advance … to one for payment in arrear – in effect the performance of services by the shipowner on credit”.

(3) Disposal

Irrespective of the Court’s decision on The Astra and the status of the obligation to pay hire, the Court therefore dismissed GCL’s appeal.