Unsafe ports. The Ocean Victory in the Supreme Court.

The Ocean Victory involved a Capesize vessel which became a constructive total loss at the discharge port of Kashima. The quay at Kashima was vulnerable to long waves which can result in a vessel being required to leave the port. The only route in and out of Kashima is by a narrow channel, the Kashima Fairway, which is vulnerable to northerly gales. There was no meteorological reason why these two events should occur at the same time, but on this occasion the two events did coincide when the vessel had to leave port due to long waves, and subsequently became a constructive total loss. The vessel was demise chartered on Barecon 89 form and sub-time chartered. Both charters contained a safe port warranty.  One of the vessel’s hull insurers took assignments of the owners’ and demise charterer’s rights and claimed for breach of the safe port warranty.

The Supreme Court which gave judgment yesterday, [2017] UKSC 35,  held that there had been no breach of the safe port undertaking.  The test for breach of the safe port undertaking was whether the damage sustained by the vessel had been caused by an “abnormal occurrence”, and the date for judging the breach of the safe port warranty was the date of nomination of the port. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal. The combination of long waves and the exceptional nature of the storm at Kashima constituted an abnormal occurrence. Accordingly, there had been no breach of the safe port warranty under the demise charter and the sub-time charter.

The Supreme Court also dealt with two further questions that would have arisen if there had been a breach of the safe port undertaking under the two charters.  The first was whether the provisions for joint insurance in clause 12 of the Barecon 89 form precluded rights of subrogation of hull insurers and the right of owners to recover in respect of losses covered by hull insurers against the demise charterer for breach of an express safe port undertaking. The majority view was that clause 12 did preclude such a claim and provided a comprehensive scheme for an insurance funded result in the event of loss of the vessel by marine risks. This scheme was not altered by the safe port undertaking.  The second was whether liability under the two charters could be limited under art. 2(1)(a) of the LLMC 1976. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeal in The CMA Djakarta [2004] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 460 that Article 2(1)(a) of the 1976 LLMC  which allows owners or charterers to limit liability for loss or damage to property “occurring on board the ship” or “in direct connexion with the operation of the ship” did not include loss or damage to the ship itself.

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.

Want to stymie a judgment creditor? It’s not as easy as you think.

English courts aren’t best pleased when they give judgment, only to find someone busily trying to frustrate the claimant’s efforts to collect on it. Last year, in JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2016] EWHC 230 (Comm) (noted here on this blog), Teare J very rightly decided that an elusive judgment debtor’s pal was liable in tort to the judgment creditor when he helped the debtor shuffle his assets around in an elaborate “now you see them, now you don’t” exercise. Yesterday, in Marex Financial Ltd v Garcia [2017] EWHC 918 (Comm), Knowles J carried on the good work. Marex had got judgment in England for some $5 million, plus the usual freezing orders, against a couple of BVI companies controlled by SG, a globetrotting businessman. SG thereafter took care to avoid the UK, instead taking steps to spirit away the English assets of his companies to a web of entities in far-flung jurisdictions where it was difficult, if not impossible, for Marex to track them down. Marex thereupon sought permission to sue SG out of the jurisdiction, alleging a tort committed in England. What tort? In so far as SG might be deemed to have acted with the companies’ consent, inducement of breach of contract (i.e. the implicit contract by the companies to pay the judgment debt); and in so far as the companies hadn’t consented and hence he was in breach of duty to them, causing loss to Marex by unlawful means. Knowles J agreed with both limbs of the argument, swiftly disposed of a forum non conveniens point, and allowed service out, thus giving Marex at least a decent chance of getting paid.

Good news, therefore, to judgment creditors. Moreover, while this was a non-EU service out case, note that so long as any relevant monkey-business took place in England, its reasoning will apply equally to EU and EEA-based defendants under Brussels I and Lugano, because the tort “gateway” has been interpreted similarly in both cases since Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 665; [2016] 1 W.L.R. 1814.

So good luck and good hunting.

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.

Undeclared deck cargo and carrier’s right to limit Hague-Visby Rules? Canadian court says ‘yes’.

In De Wolf Maritime Safety BV v Traffic-Tech International Inc (‘The Cap Jackson’) 2017 FC 23, the Federal Court in Canada has held that (1) undeclared on-deck carriage did not prevent the application of the Hague-Visby Rules to the bill of lading and (2) that the carrier was entitled to rely on the limitation provisions in art. IV(5) of the Hague-Visby Rules. The decision on both points is in accordance with English law on the Hague-Visby Rules and deck cargo.

Anticipatory breach and sale of blended cargo.

 

A victory for IISTL Member, Simon Rainey QC, leading counsel for the seller in Mena Energy DMCC v Hascol Petroleum Ltd. [2017] EWHC 262 (Comm). Disputes arose out of two sales, one of fuel oil, the other of gasoil, to an importer in Pakistan. The first shipment was of fuel oil  with a maximum  viscosity of 125 centistokes. The shipment required blending on the voyage to reduce its viscosity. On arrival at Karachi import was not permitted following sampling of the vessel’s tanks which showed that the cargo had a viscosity of 192.92 centistokes. The parties then agreed by telephone that the vessel would return to Fujairah where the cargo would be reloaded following further blending and would then return to Karachi. The buyer claimed that no final settlement had been reached but that the parties had merely agreed that if the vessel returned to Karachi by 26 November the existing bills of lading would continue to be used for calculating the price, but if it did not return by then the parties would revert to their rights under the original contract. The vessel returned to Karachi on 30 November and the buyer claimed damages for delay. The court held that the telephone agreement constituted a final settlement of all claims and counterclaims up to that point and that the seller merely undertook to use its best endeavours to ensure the vessel’s return to Karachi by 26 November. Even if the buyers were correct, the evidence showed that the cargo was in fact on spec at the time of the initial arrival at Karachi. The spot samples were drawn before any recirculation of the cargo had taken place. Running samples were more accurate than spot samples and hatch samples more accurate than samples drawn through the vessel’s closed sampling system.

 

With the second shipment, the buyers were obliged to open a letter of credit by 3 December and had failed to so. The previous day the sellers, seeing that it was clear that the buyers would fail to open the credit on time, cancelled the charterparty they had concluded for shipment. The court held that the obligation to open the credit did not depend on the existence of a charterparty, and that after 3 December, the buyer’s anticipatory breach became an actual breach for which the sellers were entitled to claim damages. In any event, the opening of a credit was a condition precedent to the seller’s obligation to supply the goods and there could be no question of the seller being in breach for failing to deliver cargo in circumstances where no letter of credit had been opened.

Investors — beware how you handle corporate structures

Most serious investors in everything from ships to real estate to businesses act through the medium of ‘tame’ companies. They do this for very good reasons. However, the Supreme Court gave a salutary warning this morning that even the simplest structures of this kind can provide pitfalls for the unwary.

Slightly simplified, in Lowick Rose LLP (in liquidation) v Swynson Ltd [2017] UKSC 32 what happened was this. A wealthy investor H used a wholly-owned special purpose vehicle S Ltd to make a loan of £15 million to EMS Ltd to enable EMS to buy MIA Inc. Due diligence, or rather a lack of it, was provided by accountants HMT, who failed to notice glaring problems with MIA. The trouble quickly surfaced. As a damage limitation exercise H caused S to lend a further £1.75m to EMSL in 2007 and £3m in 2008, H at the same time obtaining a large holding in EMS. Things went from bad to worse, and in 2008 more refinancing was necessary. H personally lent EMS some £19 million, most of which went to pay off EMS’s borrowings from S, with the rest being new money. To no avail: MIA collapsed, and with it the whole house of cards.

H and S sued HMT for losses of some £16 million. At this point an awkwardness arose. HMT was held on the facts to have owed no duty to H. As regards S it admitted negligence, but argued that in so far as S’s loans to EMS had been paid off (by H) the loss was H’s and not S’s. Reversing the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court decided for HMT. S had indeed suffered no loss. The loan by H to EMS to pay off S was not an unconnected benefit, so as to be regarded as res inter alios acta. Nor could S invoke transferred loss and the rule in Dunlop v Lambert (1839) 2 Cl & F 626; nor yet could H use the doctrine of subrogation to keep the loan from S to EMS alive and claim in the name of S.

A nice windfall for HMT’s professional indemnity insurers, and an unnecessary one. Had H lent the money to S for S to use to refinance EMS, there would have been no problem; H, through S, would have been £16 million to the good. But he hadn’t done that, and that was an end of the matter. As we said above, when using corporate structures any failure to take care to guard your back can be very costly.

Solicitors also note: you are now on notice. Since this decision, unless you take great care in advising on refinancing deals, the SIF is likely to have some less-than-kind words for you too.

Something fishy in the containers. Package limitation under the Hague Visby Rules

The High Court has just tackled the thorny issue, raised in the Australian case of The El Greco [2004] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 537 of what is the applicable limitation of liability for loss or damage of goods carried in a container under a contract of carriage subject to the Hague-Visby Rules. Kyokuyo v AP Moller –Maersk [2017] EWHC 654 (Comm) involved carriage of three containers from Spain to Japan. The contract of carriage initially provided for the issue of straight bills of lading, consigned to the claimants, but the carrier and shipper subsequently agreed to issue seawaybills which were handed over to the consignee. As the contract of carriage contemplated the issue of bills of lading and the contract of carriage was made in Spain the contract of carriage was subject to the mandatory application of the Hague-Visby Rules under Rule X(b), even though the shipping documents that were issued were seawaybills.

The goods in the three containers were frozen tuna, some of which were carried in packages, some in individual units. The individual tuna pieces constituted ‘units’ for the purposes of package limitation and constituted the ‘packages or units’ of the cargo as packed. By operation of Article IV rule 5(c) of the Hague- Visby Rules they were the ‘packages or units’  for  the  purposes  of  Article  IV  rule  5(a). It sufficed that the  language  of enumeration  was  consistent  with the truth (something that had not been the case in The El Greco). The limitation figure was presumed to be a single one for each container, unless the claimant could prove that there had been enumeration of the packages or units as packed within the container. The waybills had referred to the number of individual tuna pieces, on a ‘said to contain’ basis, but had not referred to the packages of tuna. The limit for the damaged goods in each container was a separate limit of 666.67 SDRs for each enumerated unit, the individual tuna pieces, and a single package limit of the larger of 666.67 SDRs or 2 SDRs per kilo of the gross weight of the damaged packaged tuna.

No set-off of charterers’ claims against debt for reimbursement of additional premium.

 

In London Arbitration 11/17 the vessel was time chartered on an amended NYPE 93 form under which the charterers gave orders for a voyage to a range of ports in Yemen. This led to the vessel incurring an additional premium of nearly $203,000 for transiting the Gulf of Aden and a call to Yemen. The additional premium was for charterer’s account under 82,  but charterers said that there had been a significant increase in APs for Yemen with effect from 25 May 2015, and complained that if the owners had not been guilty of culpable delay during the earlier stages of the voyage, the charterers would only have been required to pay the pre-increase rates. The tribunal held that the sums due by way of clause 82 of the charter were due by way of debt and there was no express or implied right to make an equitable set-off of such debt. Owners were entitled to reimbursement of the Aps in full and charterers would then have to counterclaim whatever part of the sum now awarded was recoverable by the charterers by reason of breach of owners’ alleged breach of charter.

Message from the Supreme Court: do your due diligence

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in BPE Solicitors v Hughes-Holland [2017] UKSC 21 looks like a dry-as-dust decision on the measure of damages in professional negligence cases. It is more important than that, however.

A financier, G, was negligently misinformed by his solicitor about a project he was thinking of financing. To cut a long story short, G was led to believe he was bankrolling the carrying out of a property development, while in fact he was merely refinancing the property owner’s own crippling indebtedness, leaving no assets left over to actually do the work. Having taken the loan the borrower went bust; the property was sold for a song, and G lost his hard-earned cash.

Pretty obviously, had G not been misled he would have run a mile and invested his funds elsewhere, where they would still have been available to him. There was however a complication: quite apart from any misinformation by his lawyers, the project he invested in was a complete dud from beginning to end. In other words, even if what his solicitors told him had been entirely true and he had been financing the actual works, he would still have been pouring his money down the drain, and he would still have lost out.

Upholding the Court of Appeal, Lord Sumption (speaking for the court) decided that G recovered nothing. Even though he would not have made the disastrous investment he did but for his solicitors’ blunder, his solicitors’ duty did not extend to protecting him from garden variety commercial misfortune. It followed that (contrary to a number of earlier authorities) the so-called SAAMCO cap (see South Australia Asset Management Corpn v York Montague Ltd [1997] AC 191) applied to reduce recovery to nil.

The significance of this decision to businesses generally, from lenders of money to buyers of ships or businesses, is that it removes what was once quite a comforting safety-net. Prior to BPE, if professional advisers negligently failed to tell a client facts indicating that some investment he was seeking to make was entirely unacceptable or unviable, the client could recover his entire (foreseeable) loss, even if other commercial conditions indicated that the deal was a disaster and he would have lost out anyway regardless of the facts he was not told about. Quite rightly, the Supreme Court has now closed off this means of palming off one’s own financial misjudgment on somebody else’s professional indemnity insurers. As the title says: do your due diligence. If you don’t, from now on you’re on your own.