Sail Labrador Ltd. v. The "Challenge One"

In Charters of Ships on (Updated )

This was an appeal from the Federal Court of Appeal. The Appellant/Plaintiff had entered into a 5 year charter party with the Respondent/Defendant. The terms of the charter party included an option to purchase the vessel at the end of the five year term subject to "full performance" of its obligations under the charter party. Clause 10 of the charter party specified an annual payment and clause 11 provided that the annual payment was to be paid in seven monthly instalments. The practice of the parties was for the Plaintiff to provide the Defendant with seven post dated cheques at the beginning of each year. Due to an error by the Plaintiff’s bank, the first cheque for the fifth year was returned insufficient funds. The Defendant then wrote to the Plaintiff advising that the option to purchase was void. The Plaintiff immediately rectified the non-payment and all subsequent payments were made on time. Pursuant to clause 25 of the charter party, the Defendant also requested that the Plaintiff provide it with all of the log books for the vessel. The Plaintiff failed to do so. At the conclusion of the charter term, the Plaintiff attempted to exercise the option to purchase but the Defendant took the position that the option was void because of the late payment and the failure to provide the log books.

At trial, the trial judge held that the Plaintiff had substantially performed its obligations under the charter party and was entitled to exercise the option to purchase. On appeal, the Federal Court of Appeal held that a party exercising an option to purchase must strictly comply with the conditions of the option and that, as the Plaintiff had not done so, it was not entitled to exercise the option. On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the option to purchase was part of a bilateral agreement between the parties comprising both the charter and the option. As a bilateral contract the doctrine of substantial compliance was applicable and the court found that there had been substantial compliance by the Plaintiff. Further, the court held that the words used in the option were not precise enough to make time of the essence of the contract. On the issue of the Plaintiff’s failure to provide the log books the court noted that pursuant to section 26 of the Canada Shipping Act the log books must remain on the vessel. Therefore, the court held that all the Plaintiff was required to do was to make the logs available for inspection on the vessel. In result, the appeal was allowed.