Norwegian Bunkers AS v. Boone Star Owners Inc.

In Ship Suppliers on (Updated )

Précis: The Federal Court held that Brazilian law applied to a claim for bunkers supplied to a chartered vessel in Brazil and that such law gave the supplier a maritime lien but, there was no in personam claim as against the ship owner when the charterer ordered the bunkers.

Facts: The plaintiffs, Norwegian and Belgium companies respectively, supplied bunkers to the ship “Samatan”, a Maltese flagged vessel, in Brazil using a local Brazilian supplier. At the time of the supply, the vessel had been chartered and sub-chartered on the NYPE form. The NYPE form provided, among other things, that the charterer was not permitted to create maritime liens against the vessel. The bunkers were ordered from the plaintiffs by the sub-charterer. The plaintiffs acknowledged the order with a standard form that specified the bunkers had been ordered for “Master and/or Owner and/or Operator”. The plaintiffs knew the sub-charterer was not the owner of the vessel but had not been notified of the “no-lien” clause in the charter parties. The bunkers supplied by the plaintiffs were not paid for. The plaintiffs commenced this action and arrested the vessel in Canada. The plaintiffs argued that Brazilian law applied to the transaction and gave them a maritime lien against the vessel for the unpaid bunkers. The defendants argued that Canadian law applied by default (no law other than Brazilian being proven) and that pursuant to Canadian law there was no lien and no in personam action against the ship owner.

Decision: Judgment granted in part. The plaintiffs’ claim against the vessel for unpaid bunkers ranks as a maritime lien but the in personam action against the ship owner is dismissed.

Held: The parties are agreed that where, as here, there is no direct contract between the vessel owner and the supplier of the bunkers, the proper law is to be determined not by reference to the choice of law provision in the supply contract but by determining the jurisdiction with the closest and most substantial connection with the transaction. The seven factors to be considered are: (1) the place of the wrongful act; (2) the law of the flag; (3) the domicile of the plaintiff; (4) the domicile of the defendant ship owner; (5) the place where the contract was made; (6) inaccessibility of a foreign forum; and (7) the law of the forum. The defendants say Norway has the closest connection because the seller is Norwegian, the contract was made in Norway and payment was to be made in Norway. However, in a non-contractual claim such as this, it is more appropriate to consider the perspective of the parties involved in the claim rather than the contracting parties. In such a case, the place of delivery should be accorded greater weight than the other factors. The law of Brazil therefore applies and the uncontradicted expert evidence presented by the plaintiffs establishes that under such law a maritime lien exists for the bunkers supplied.

If Canadian law had applied by default, s. 139 of the Marine Liability Act (which gives persons “carrying on business in Canada” a lien against foreign vessels for goods and services “wherever supplied to the foreign vessel”) would not have applied as the plaintiffs are “foreign suppliers”.

With respect to the in personam claim against the ship owner, the plaintiffs were required to prove either that the owner was a party to the supply contract or had authorized someone to contract on its behalf. The mere fact the owner allows the charterer to accept bunkers is not sufficient. The presumption that necessaries are supplied on the credit of the ship is easily rebutted under Canadian law and is rebutted in this case. The plaintiffs knew their customer was a charterer and never inquired as to whether it had authority to bind the ship.