Gearbulk Pool Ltd. v. Seaboard Shipping Co.

In Carriage of Goods by Sea on (Updated )

This matter involved a claim for indemnity by the Plaintiff ocean carrier against the Defendant for damages the Plaintiff was ordered to pay in the matter of Timberwest Forest Ltd. v Gearbulk Pool Ltd. et al., 2003 BCCA 39 (the “underlying action”). In the underlying action the cargo of lumber was comprised of two consignments destined to two different consignees. The carrier had the right to stow the entire cargo on deck, however, because there was space available, some cargo was stowed under deck. In total, 86% of the entire shipment was loaded on deck and 14% under deck. Bills of lading were subsequently issued by the Defendant as agent for the Plaintiff containing a statement that the cargo was stowed 86% on deck and 14% under deck. (This apportionment, though accurate for the entire shipment, was not demonstrably accurate with respect to each individual consignment or bill of lading.) The deck cargo was damaged at the discharge port. The carrier sought to avoid liability by relying upon an exclusion clause in the bills of lading for damage to deck cargo. The courts in the underlying action held, however, that the carrier was not entitled to rely upon the exclusion clause as the deck cargo was not sufficiently identified as deck cargo to take it outside of the Hague-Visby Rules. The carrier then brought this action claiming that it was entitled to indemnity because the Defendant had breached a contract of affreightment between the Plaintiff and Defendant. The contract of affreightment provided that the Defendant would indemnify the Plaintiff for any losses caused by any variance between the carrier’s bill of lading to the Defendant and the Defendant’s bill of lading to the shippers. The Plaintiff’s bill of lading to the Defendant contained the statement “Stowed on Deck: 2,304,088 FBM of which 1,982,204 FBM loaded on deck without liability for loss or damage howsoever caused”. The Defendant’s bills of lading to the shippers contained, as indicted above, a breakdown in percentages of the on deck and under deck stowage. The trial Judge and the Court of Appeal held, however, that the cause of the failure of the exemption clause and the Plaintiff’s liability in the underlying action was not the variance between the bills of lading but was because the Plaintiff’s supercargo did not take steps during the loading to adequately identify what was loaded on deck and under deck. The description of the cargo stowage had to be sufficient to permit a shipper to determine the extent of the risk presented by the on deck cargo. This required sufficient identification of the cargo to determine not just the quantity but also the value of the cargo stowed on deck.