Mediterranean Shipping company S.A. v. Sipco Inc.

In Carriage of Goods by Sea on (Updated )

The Plaintiff in this action claimed against the Defendant for ocean freight owing in respect of the carriage by sea of nine containers from Toronto to the Persian Gulf. The Defendant admitted non-payment of freight but alleged that it was entitled to a set-off and brought a counterclaim alleging breaches of the contract by the Plaintiff. Specifically, the Defendant alleged that seven of the containers were shipped together, that six of those seven containers arrived on time at the port of discharge, that the seventh container did not arrive until months after its scheduled arrival, and that as a consequence the clearance through customs of all of the containers was delayed. The issues in the case were the entitlement to set-off and whether the Plaintiff had been negligent in its handling of the containers. On the first issue the Trial Judge reviewed the Anglo-Canadian authorities and concluded that there could be no right of set-off against freight under a contract for the carriage of goods by sea unless the contract specifically provided otherwise. As the contract did not provide otherwise, there was no right of set-off. The Trial Judge next turned to the counterclaim. The first defence raised against the counter-claim was that the claim had not been brought within the one year time period fixed by the Hague-Visby Rules. The success of this argument depended upon whether the prescription period set by the Rules ran from the date of discharge or the date of actual or constructive delivery to the consignee. The Trial Judge held that the prescription period runs from delivery not discharge and that any clauses in a bill of lading declaring delivery takes place at discharge are null and void. The Trial Judge further held that delivery takes place on the day the last piece of cargo is delivered, the seventh container in the case at bar. Accordingly, the Judge held the counterclaim had been commenced within time. The Judge next considered various defences raised by the clauses in the bill of lading, namely: a scope of voyage clause which gave the carrier complete discretion as to the ports at which to call; a period of responsibility clause which provided the carrier was not liable for damages occurring in the period before loading or after discharge; and a clause providing that there could be no claims for failure of the carrier to meet arrival or departure dates. The Judge held that these various clauses were contrary to the Hague-Visby Rules and therefore null and void pursuant art. 3 r. 8 of the Rules. The Judge next considered the damages suffered as a consequence of the breach of contract by the Plaintiff but found that the Defendant had failed to prove any damages. In result, therefore, the claim for freight was allowed and the counterclaim was dismissed.