Imperial Shipping Committee

In the 19th century there was a great deal of general dissatisfaction internationally with the conditions upon which goods were carried by sea. This was mainly due to the many elaborate negligence clauses which were introduced by shipowners into their bills of lading, designed completely to defeat the effect of legal decisions against them. Many of these clauses were produced in an extremely ambiguous fashion and were quite impossible to interpret, as a consequence the position of many shippers, bankers and cargo underwriters became ludicrous because they were quite unable to understand and interpret the extent of their rights against the carrier in the area of carriage of cargo by sea. The effect of this was to produce a feeling within the industry of general unrest and growing agitation for governments to introduce legislation to remedy the situation that had developed in order for there to be some protection for shippers, bankers and underwriters alike. It led to a recognition that a uniform international approach to all bills of lading was required, in order to reconcile the interests of all parties involved. In 1893 the United States unilaterally passed the Harter Act which laid down many conditions upon which goods were to be carried by sea. This, of course, affected the carriage of goods being shipped to and from the United States of America. Following this, similar legislation was introduced by other governments in an effort to correct this unfair situation and among the leaders in this respect were Australia, who developed their Sea Carriage of Goods Act 1904, Canada who passed The Water Carriage of Goods Act 1910 and New Zealand where a series of new Acts were passed. In 1921 the Imperial Shipping Committee made recommendations to the British Government that there should be some uniform legislation throughout the British Empire to standardise the law regarding the carriage of goods by sea. The shipping community itself, however, preferred the idea of adopting a set of uniform rules for voluntary adoption rather than to introduce legislation. To this end a set of rules was drafted up by the Maritime Law Committee of the International Law Association at a meeting at the Hague in 1921.