A cargo of cold-rolled steel coils was carried from Brazil to Toronto pursuant to bills of lading that incorporated the terms and conditions of a voyage charterparty between the exporter and the time charterer of the vessel. Pursuant to the terms of the voyage charterparty, the exporter was to be responsible for the loading, stowing and discharging of the cargo. The voyage charterparty also contained an arbitration clause in favour of New York arbitration. At the time of the loading of the cargo there was a disagreement between the Master and the exporter as to whether the cargo should be covered with plastic sheeting. To resolve this disagreement, the exporter provided a letter of indemnity holding the Master and owners harmless for any damage due to the use of the plastic sheets. Upon arrival of the cargo at Toronto, there was damage to the cargo and the plaintiff/consignee commenced this action against the ship owner and time charterer. The owner and time charterer, in turn, commenced third party proceedings against the exporter. The exporter then brought an application to stay the third party proceedings relying upon the arbitration clause in the voyage charterparty. The owner and time charterer opposed the stay arguing that s. 46 of the Marine Liability Act applied and the third party proceedings were entitled to be brought in Canada. Additionally, they argued that the letter of indemnity was a separate contract not subject to the arbitration clause. Finally, the owner alleged it was not a party to the voyage charterparty and therefore not bound by the arbitration clause.
At first instance (2011 FC 291), the Prothonotary dismissed the motion. On appeal to a Judge (2011 FC 1067), the Appeal Judge allowed the appeal and stayed the proceedings. The main issue was whether s. 46 of the Marine Liability Act applies to charter parties. The Appeal Judge noted that the ordinary meaning of the expression “contract for the carriage of goods by water” in s. 46 could support the inclusion of charter parties. However, relying heavily on the fact that the Hague-Visby and Hamburg Rules excluded charter parties, the Appeal Judge concluded that s. 46 did not apply to charter parties. The Appeal Judge further held that the letter of indemnity was not a separate contract but an amendment of the voyage charterparty and therefore any claim under the letter of indemnity was caught by the arbitration clause in the voyage charterparty. The owner and time charterer appealed.
Decision: Appeal dismissed vis a vis the time charterer and allowed vis a vis the owner.
Held: When interpreting words in a statute the entire context and the purpose must be considered and not just the "plain meaning" of the words used. It is important to note that none of the international conventions relating to carriage of goods by sea apply to charter parties. The imbalance in bargaining power that led to the various international conventions does not exist in relation to charter parties where the traditional mode of resolving charter party disputes is arbitration. Section 46 of the Marine Liability Act was intended to address perceived unfairness resulting from the application of jurisdiction and arbitration clauses in bills of lading. In the context of legislation dealing with the rights and obligations of common carriers, the expression "contract of carriage" should not be understood to include charter parties. Moreover, there is no policy reason why charter party contracts between commercial entities dealing directly with one another should not be enforced. Further, the Appeal Judge’s conclusion that the letter of indemnity was an amendment to the charter-party is logical and supported by the evidence. However, the owner was not a party to the voyage charterparty and is not bound by the arbitration clause in that charterparty.
Note: An application to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed on 16 May 2013.