Voest-Alpine Stahl Linz GmbH v. The "Federal St. Clair" et al.

In Carriage of Goods by Sea on (Updated )

This was an action for damage to 35 steel coils. The coils were manufactured in Austria and carried by barge to Antwerp where they were loaded on board the Defendant vessel and carried to Montreal. A pre-loading survey at Antwerp noted some minor rusting to the coils. The cargo was not surveyed at Montreal. It was carried from Montreal to the consignee’s premises where it was put in storage. Approximately two months later, when the coils were unrolled for use, they were discovered to be in a rusted condition. They were then surveyed and the surveyor concluded that the damage was attributable to contact with water in the vessel’s holds (although only one of five samples indicated salt water contamination). The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff had failed to prove the damage occurred while the cargo was in its possession. The court, however, held that the Plaintiff had proven on the balance of probabilities that the damage occurred during the voyage from Antwerp to Montreal. The court further held that the burden was therefore on the Defendants to show the damage was caused by an excepted peril and that they had exercised due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy. The Defendants failed to discharge this burden. A secondary issue in the case was whether the time charterer of the vessel was liable together with the vessel’s owner. On this issue the court held that the usual role of the time charterer is to find space on a vessel. Once it has booked the space the carrier or the owner issues the bill of lading which becomes the contract of carriage. The court found no specific undertaking by the time charterer to carry the goods and therefore the case against it was dismissed.