Masters needed, being able to predict the future a must

UK P&I Club and UK Defence Club claims executive Alex Gray recently observed in an opinion piece in Maritime Executive that “according to the Dutch Court of Appeal, it would seem that masters of ships must also be masters of the unknown – on top of all the other job requirements. Odd? Yes – we thought so, too.”

The case involving an entered ship with a cargo of steel plates and coils loaded in China and discharged in the Netherlands. The voyage entailed several changes of climate sailing in winter from a cold China, through the warm Singapore straits nearing the equator and then back up to, a very cold, Europe. This was reportedly the cause of damage to the cargo, for which the receiver sought to recover damages. The owners sought to deny liability on the basis that it was not the fault of the ship.

Gray noted that the Dutch Court “held that a receiver is relying on the description of the cargo provided by the master when the goods are loaded”, which coincides with the obligations under the Hague-Visby Rules. But the court further held that the receiver is not supposed to have any knowledge regarding the carriage of steel. Anything to do with the transportation is, therefore, completely down to the owners / master. As such, the Court said that the master should have described the condition of the cargo taking into account the forthcoming voyage.

Gray claimed this meant that “in other words, the master is expected to clause the bills of lading in accordance with any and every potential change in condition of the cargo caused by and during the voyage. In theory, by the time the damage is done and the cargo reaches the discharge port, it would correspond with the description given by the master at the loading port”.

He observed that “the owners may be appealing the decision, but if in doubt be sure to talk to your insurer.”

However, one reader of Maritime Executive, “Ljb” put a counter-argument. Ljb said that it was hard to believe this was the master’s first steel cargo, but even if it were, there were plenty of references to tell the master how to handle the cargo and what is proper. “This is not some secret lost knowledge or black magic; it is as simple as picking up a copy of Thomas stowage and following the recommendations”, the commenter said.