Hague-Visby Rules

During the 19th century there was a great deal of general dissatisfaction and unrest with the conditions upon which goods were carried by sea. This unrest came about due to many elaborate ‘negligence clauses’ which were introduced into bills of lading. These Clauses were designed to defeat completely the effect of legal decisions against shipowners in the Courts. Many of these clauses were produced in an extremely ambiguous fashion and were quite impossible to interpret. As a consequence of this the position of many shippers, bankers and cargo underwriters became ludicrous as they were quite unable to understand and interpret the extent of their rights against a carrier in the area of carriage of cargo by sea. The liner companies at this time found themselves in a most monopolistic position because, being relatively few in number, they could combine together to agree various terms of carriage whereas shippers, for example, found that they were quite unable to combine effectively in order to negotiate with shipowners on equal terms. The general effect of this was to produce a feeling within the industry of general dissatisfaction and growing agitation for Governments to introduce legislation to remedy the situation that had developed for the necessary protection of shippers, bankers and underwriters alike. Thus in 1893, the United States passed the Harter Act which laid down many conditions upon which goods were to be carried by sea. This, of course, affected only the carriage of goods being shipped to and from the United States of America. Following this, however, similar legislation was introduced by other Governments in an effort to correct the unfair situation and, among the leaders in this respect, were Australia (who developed their Sea Carriage of Goods Act, 1904), Canada (The Water-Carriage of Goods Act, 1910) and also New Zealand, where a series of new Acts was passed.