Cargo of rice carried on the “SEA MIROR” from Karachi, Pakistan to Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  Continental was the carrier under the bills of lading. The bills of lading contained/evidenced contracts of carriage incorporating the Hague Rules and terms of the Synacomex 90 form.

Cargo claims arose alleging moisture damage and short delivery. The issue was whether any loss/damage arising from shortcomings in the loading or discharge was the responsibility of the shippers/charterers/receivers rather than owners, pursuant to clause 5 of the charterparty (as incorporated into the bills of lading):

“Cargo shall be loaded, trimmed and/or stowed at the expenses and risk of Shippers/Charterers … Cargo shall be discharged at the expenses and risk of Receivers/Charterers … Stowage shall be under Master’s direction and responsibility.”

Held (Flaux J): 

  1. Responsibility for loading and discharge was normally that of the owner, therefore clear and unambiguous words were necessary to transfer responsibility to the charterer.
  2. The charterparty did not impose an express obligation to perform the cargo operations on the charterers.
  3. The case law indicates that risk was equated with responsibility in this context.  Therefore, construing the contracts as a whole, the words “at the expenses and risk of Shippers/Charterers” were sufficiently clear to transfer responsibility for loading and discharge and any shortcomings in those operations to the charterers and cargo interests.

(Societe de Distribution de Toutes Merchandises en Cote d’Ivoire trading as “SDTM-CI” and others v Continental Lines NV and another [2015] EWHC 1747 (Comm))