By process of ship-to-ship transfer, the owner discharged a cargo of bunker fuel onto another vessel without production of an original bill of lading.
The actual bill of lading successfully incorporated a charterparty clause providing for exclusive jurisdiction of the English High Court. Regardless, the shipper proceeded to commence actions for the misdelivery of cargo in a variety of other jurisdictions. Eventually, proceedings were commenced before the English High Court, albeit outside of the one year time bar under the Hague Rules.
This raised two issues of importance:
-Does the time bar created by Article III Rule 6 of the Hague Rules apply to claims for misdelivery?
-Is the requirement to bring suit within one year, found in Article III Rule 6, satisfied if proceedings are commenced in the courts of one country, when the bill of lading incorporates a clause from a charterparty giving exclusive jurisdiction to the courts of another country?
In response to the first issue the Judge found that, by virtue of its language, Article III Rule 6 was capable of applying to misdelivery claims. As a side note, the rule is also not limited in its application to breaches of the Hague Rules. Rather, the time limit applies to breaches of the shipowner’s obligations which ‘occur during the period of Hague Rules responsibility’ and which have a ‘sufficient nexus with identifiable goods carried or to be carried’.
With regards to the second issue the Judge held that proceedings brought in a particular court, in breach of an agreement to bring claims in another forum, will not constitute proceedings before a competent court within the meaning of the Hague Rules.
This judgment clarifies the issue of whether the one year time bar under the Hague Rules applies to claims wherein the carrier has discharged cargo without production of an original bill of lading. It is suggested that the position will be the same in respect of misdelivery claims under the Hague Visby Rules, the wording of which is even wider in scope.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the time limit under the Hague Rules applies to misdelivery occurring after the discharge of cargo from the vessel; say, for example where a container is collected from the quayside where it had been left for some time after its discharge.