Dangerous Goods

If dangerous goods are given to a carrier for carriage the consignor is deemed to warrant to the carrier and also to the carrier’s servants and other consignors that the goods are fit to be carried. For a breach of this warranty the consignor will be liable in damages even if he was ignorant of the dangerous character of his goods. Under English law, the carriage of dangerous goods at sea is today regulated by statute. The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 has specific provisions which deal with dangerous goods. These provisions are contained in Sections 446 – 450 inclusive. Section 446 sets out the restrictions on the carriage of dangerous goods. Basically, Section 446 provides that it will be a criminal offence for any person to send or attempt to send by any vessel, British or foreign, dangerous goods without specifically and in writing informing the carrier of the nature of these goods. Section 447 provides the penalty for misdescription of dangerous goods, (basically, a fine). Section 448 provides specific powers that the master or owner of any vessel will have in order to deal with goods which are suspected of being dangerous. Section 449 provides that any court having Admiralty jurisdiction has the power of forfeiture of dangerous goods which have been improperly sent or carried. Section 450 provides that the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 in relation to dangerous goods shall be in addition to and not in substitution for, or in restraint of, any other enactment in relation to dangerous goods. The precise scope of the shipper’s contractual obligations is a matter of controversy: the current balance of authority seems to favour the view that the shipper’s obligation is absolute and not limited to facts within the shipper’s actual knowledge. There are often difficulties in identifying the boundary between those risks which the shipowner