Agent sued as co-carrier of cargo

The agent in Thailand was appointed to act for the Hong Kong owners of a ship which called at Bangkok to load a cargo of 13,300 MT of bagged rice for discharge in West Africa.  On completion of the loading, the agent signed the bill of lading on behalf of the Master in accordance with the Mate's receipt.

Nothing further was head of this shipment until 15 months after the cargo had been discharged in West Africa when the agent received notice from the Thai Court that they were being sued as "co-carriers" by the cargo underwriters for loss and damage to the cargo in the amount of approximately US$ 103,500.

As soon as the claim was reported, the Club appointed lawyers in Bangkok to protect the agent's interest and to advise on their exposure to the claim.  At the same time, efforts were made to persuade the owners and their P&I Club to take over the defence of the claim, but without success.  Attempts were then made to join the owners in the proceedings against the agent as third party defendants but these attempts were also unsuccessful as the Plaintiff's claim against the owner was already time-barred under the terms of the bill of lading.  The Club's lawyers also advised that the Thai Court would not, in any event, have granted leave to serve third party proceedings outside Thailand as actions can only be brought in the Thai Courts against companies domiciled in Thailand.  The unfortunate agent therefore found himself the sole defendant in an action for loss and damage to cargo, not because he was domiciled in a country whose law imposed a liability upon him as a carrier when he was only acting as an agent.

The matter came before the Bangkok Civil Court and after a number of hearings the Club's lawyers advised that the agent had little chance before the Court of a successful defence and recommended an attempt be made to reach an out of court settlement.  In the event this was achieved and the Plaintiffs accepted a payment of US$ 52,559 from the agent.  The total cost of this claim to the Club, after the member's deductible, was US £ 63,325.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the chances of making any recovery were too remote to warrant incurring further costs.

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