Who pays for a long stay?

23 Май

В настоящей публикации исследуется решение английского суда по спору MSC Mediterranean Shipping v Cottonex Anstalt, в котором содержится ответ на весьма сложный вопрос о том, можно ли требовать демередж за простой контейнеров в течение трех с половиной лет после того, как получатель не получил груз. Спор рассматривался также судами в Бангладеш. По условиям коносамента отправитель должен был возвратить перевозчику 35 контейнеров в течение 14 дней после их освобождения от груза. Перевозчик возбудил иск в английском суде против «купца», которым является как отправитель, так и получатель груза. Главным аргументом защиты отправителя было то, что перевозчик мог приобрести аналогичные контейнеры. Этот аргумент был отклонен английским судом. Однако английский суд принял во внимание тот аргумент отправителя, что после нескольких месяцев задержки с освобождением контейнеров и их возвратом перевозчику, перевозчик должен был понять, что проблема с возвратом контейнеров не решается, и договор перевозки, таким образом, нарушен. В этом случае договор перевозки прекращается, и основания для начисления демереджа отпадают, следовательно, начисление демереджа прекращается по истечении этого времени, но отнюдь не трех с половиной лет, которые потребовались для того чтобы возбудить процесс в английском суде.

Who is responsible for the cost of containers stranded in port? Linda Jacques looks at a recent case involving MSC and a claim for demurrage fees

Linda Jacques is a partner of law firm Lester Aldridge’s specialist shipping division LA Marine (www.la-marine.co.uk). She advises on a range of marine, aviation and commercial matters relating to international trade, in addition to acting for local and international companies within those areas.

A recent case has put the thorny issue of container demurrage fees under the spotlight. In MSC Mediterranean Shipping v Cottonex Anstalt, an English court was asked to consider whether MSC could claim demurrage fees for a period of 3.5 years, after a receiver failed to collect cargo.

The case concerned a cargo of cotton that had been shipped under five bills of lading in 35 containers to Chittagong, Bangladesh. As a result of a legal dispute between the shipper and the receiver, the containers had remained in storage.

That legal dispute was played out in the courts in Bangladesh. The receiver tried to prevent payment for the goods being made to the shipper, on the basis that there was something wrong with the bills of lading, which it alleged were potentially fraudulent.

During the 3.5 years, the shipper had made attempts to persuade the local customs authorities to release the cargo inside the containers for unpacking, but the requests had been refused. It had therefore not been possible to stop demurrage accruing on the containers.

The amount of demurrage that had actually accrued was 10 times the value of the cargo, and was in excess of US$1 m by the time the issue came before the English court.

The terms of the bill of lading required the shipper to return the 35 containers within 14 days after discharge to a destination/place nominated by MSC.

If this did not happen, then MSC was entitled to claim demurrage. MSC took the view that it was entitled to the demurrage on an indefinite basis for as long as the shipper was in breach of that bill of lading term.

Matters came to a head when MSC started legal proceedings in England against the shipper under the bill of lading for the demurrage that had accrued. That claim was brought under clause 14.8 of the bill, which stated that demurrage was payable by the “merchant”, which was defined as the shipper or consignee claiming the goods under the bill of lading.

The shipper was understandably keen to avoid paying all of the demurrage and presented a number of arguments before the court to avoid liability for the entire bill.

The central plank of its defence was that the demurrage had in fact stopped running at some stage during the 3.5 years. It was also alleged that MSC could have mitigated its loss by taking steps to recover the containers itself or could have bought replacement containers.

As far as the demurrage clause in the bill of lading was concerned, the court decided that clause 14.8 was a “liquidated damages clause». In practical terms, this meant that MSC was not legally obliged to take steps to mitigate or lessen its loss.

However, the court was sympathetic to the shipper’s argument that in the months after the discharge of the containers in Bangladesh it was in breach of the bill of lading contract, because it was unwilling or physically unable to redeliver the containers. That breach was a fundamental one and went to the heart of the contract. At the point in time when the fundamental breach took place, MSC had no legitimate reason to carry on with the contract and to keep claiming demurrage.

The court therefore decided that within several months of the discharge of the containers — when it became clear that the shipper could not redeliver the containers to MSC — the demurrage was no longer payable.

Автор: Linda Jacques

Источник: Container Management. – 2015. – April/May . – P. 31.