More than you were asked to do?

Marine surveyors in Germany were engaged by charterers to attend the loading of a cargo and report on any damage caused by the stevedores. The subsequent emailed instructions contained (in translation) the following provisions:

“We hereby order the following:

  • Supervision of the loading/preloading survey
  • Reporting of eventual damages to the coating or the material - and time of damage
  • Reporting of negligence while handling of the material and loading
  • Detailed documentation with photos of the loading operations
  • This time no continuous supervision will be necessary, only during the important moments (commencement of loading operations - change of shift - securing of the cargo).”

The loading and lashing was completed and the ship sailed. Three days later there was a large noise from the cargo hold and the ship developed a 30 degree list. The master reduced the list by ballasting and diverted to a port of refuge. The cargo was discharged, sorted on the quay, reloaded, lashed and secured. About 600ts of damaged cargo was left behind. Over 10 days later the ship sailed to continue the voyage.

Owners alleged that the cargo had shifted due to poor stowage and ultimately obtained an arbitration award against the charterers for €1.56 million. The charterers subsequently held the surveyors and the stevedores (who loaded the cargo) jointly liable for €1.56 million.

ITIC arranged for lawyers to represent the surveyors. The claim was rejected on the basis that (1) the stevedores were responsible for the loading and stowage and (2) the surveyors instructions were limited to reporting on stevedoring damage caused during loading. The potential difficulty with this defence was that the charterer’s email instructions could potentially be interpreted as giving a wider obligation. In the circumstances a contribution to settlement of the claim of US$ 156,100 (about 10%) was agreed.

Although the contribution made was, in percentage terms, relatively modest the claim is an example of how the wording of instructions can potentially widen the scope of the surveyor’s liabilities. If the brief is understood to be restricted to a specific task it is important to make sure this is clearly recorded.

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