Hague-Visby Rules effect in Time Charter

Hague-Visby Rules effect in Time Charter

The Hague Rules, in the version adopted in the United States Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936, are expressly incorporated into the NYPE form by Clause 24. This, notwithstanding that Section 5 of the Act provides that the Act is not to apply to charter parties.

The effect of incorporating the United States Act into a time charter, by means of the USA Clause Paramount in Clause 24, is generally considered to be as follows:

● the express obligation of seaworthiness in Line 5 of the NYPE form is reduced from an ‘absolute’ duty to an obligation to exercise due diligence. (The Hague Rules relate only to liability for loss or damage resulting from unseaworthiness. Consequently, this dilution of owners’ obligation does not apply for the purposes of the cancelling clause);

● owners will be obliged to exercise due diligence before and at the beginning of every voyage to make the vessel seaworthy in accordance with Section 3(1) of the Act;

● all the provisions in the Act, including the important excepted perils listed in Section 4, are to be given effect, as if written out in full in the charter.

The above conclusions are drawn from the House of Lords speeches in Adamastos Shipping v Anglo-Saxon Petroleum (The SAXON STAR) (1958). However that case did not involve a time charter, but a consecutive voyage charter.

Since the Adamastos case the courts and arbitrators have accepted that clause 24 of the NYPE form has the effect of incorporating into a time charter all the provisions of the United States Act.

It should be noted, however, that the courts have not yet fully considered the impact of the Adamastos decision upon the NYPE form of charter. In The ‘HERMOSA’ [1980] Mustill, J., expressed the following reservations: ‘The difficulties created by the inclusion of the Hague Rules into a time charter have not yet been worked out by the courts. The analogy with a consecutive voyage charter is not exact. For example, the charterer pays directly for the whole of the time while the ship is on hire, including ballast voyages; and there are in most time charters express terms as regards initial seaworthiness and subsequent maintenance which are not easily reconciled with the scheme of the Hague Rules, which create an obligation as to due diligence attaching voyage by voyage. It cannot be taken for granted that the interpretation adopted in [the Adamastos case] in relation to voyage charters applies in all respects to time charters incorporating the Hague Rules.’

It is relatively seldom that the fact that Shipowners’ obligation of seaworthiness has been reduced by the Clause Paramount to a duty merely to exercise due diligence makes a practical difference. For it is unusual that a defect that renders a vessel unseaworthy could not have been discovered by reasonably diligent inspection.

The due diligence required is due diligence in the work itself by owners and all persons, whether employees or agents or independent contractors, whom they engage in the task of making the ship seaworthy.

Shipowners do not, therefore, discharge the burden of proving that due diligence has been exercised by proof that they engaged competent experts to perform and supervise the task of making the ship seaworthy.

Hague or Hague-Visby Rules effect in Time Charter Parties

The Hague and Hague-Visby Rules are both conventions that predominantly relate to the carriage of goods by sea, setting out the respective rights and obligations of carriers and cargo owners. Specifically, these rules provide for the carrier’s liabilities, exceptions, and limitations of liability when transporting goods.

Here’s a brief overview of the relevance of these rules in the context of a time charter:

1. Nature of the Charter: A time charter is an arrangement where the charterer hires the vessel for a specified period, during which the charterer decides on the voyages and the cargo. The shipowner provides the ship, its crew, and is responsible for the usual ship operational matters. However, the specific cargo carried and the voyages undertaken are typically the charterer’s responsibility.

2. Liability Under the Charter: In a time charter, the shipowner typically remains the carrier and retains many of the responsibilities toward the cargo, as if they were operating under a standard bill of lading. As such, if the charter party doesn’t specify otherwise, the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules can still apply and influence the carrier’s liabilities.

3. Incorporation of the Rules: Many time charter-parties will explicitly incorporate the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules by reference, especially when addressing responsibilities related to the cargo. Such an explicit reference means that the stipulations of these rules become an integral part of the charter agreement.

4. Limitation of Liability: One of the main reasons to incorporate the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules into a time charter is to benefit from the limitations of liability specified under these rules. By referring to these conventions, a shipowner might limit liability for cargo damage to the per package or per kilogram limits that are defined by the conventions.

5. Local Law and Mandatory Application: In some jurisdictions, the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules are compulsorily applicable to any bill of lading, regardless of what’s stated in the charter party. This can make their consideration vital even if the time charter doesn’t expressly reference them.

6. Differences in Application: It’s worth noting that not every aspect of the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules will apply neatly to a time charter context. Time charters have their unique dynamics and requirements, and the precise impact of these rules can vary based on the wording of the charter and the circumstances.

7. Conflict and Interpretation:

If there are provisions within the time charter that seem to conflict with the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules, or if the application is unclear, it might lead to disputes. This is where the quality of the wording in the charter-party becomes crucial. Any ambiguity can potentially lead to litigation. To avoid such situations, it’s advisable for the parties involved to be explicit about which rules or clauses would prevail in case of any contradiction.

8. Sub-Chartering:

In situations where the time charterer decides to sub-charter the vessel, the implications of the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules can become more complicated. This is because you might end up with multiple contractual relationships with varying terms. The shipowner’s liability towards the sub-charterer concerning cargo claims would often depend on the terms of the sub-charter and how these rules are incorporated.

9. Role of Clubs and Insurers:

Protection & Indemnity (P&I) Clubs, which provide liability insurance for shipowners, often play a crucial role in advising on and dealing with claims related to cargo damage. These clubs will be well-versed in the intricacies of the Hague and Hague-Visby Rules. Ensuring that the charter-party terms align with the insurance coverage, especially in relation to these rules, can help prevent coverage disputes.

10. Evolution and Modern Practices:

Over the years, the maritime industry has evolved, leading to new rules and practices. While the Hague and Hague-Visby Rules continue to be significant, newer conventions like the Rotterdam Rules aim to address some of the challenges and changes in modern shipping practices. Parties involved in time chartering should be aware of these developments and consider how newer rules might impact their contractual obligations.


The intersection of time charters with the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules underscores the complex web of contractual and regulatory considerations in the maritime industry. Parties involved in time chartering should seek legal advice to ensure that their contractual terms are clear, enforceable, and in line with current maritime conventions and practices. Being proactive in understanding and addressing potential conflicts or ambiguities can go a long way in preventing costly disputes and ensuring smooth operations. While time charters are focused more on the hiring of the vessel for a specific period, the Hague and Hague-Visby Rules can still be relevant, especially regarding the responsibilities and liabilities concerning the cargo. Whether through direct incorporation or via local maritime law mandates, these rules can play a role in defining the obligations of parties in a time charter.



What is the significance of Hague Visby Rules?

The Hague-Visby Rules are a set of international rules that pertain to the international carriage of goods by sea. They essentially set out the responsibilities and liabilities of parties involved in the shipping of goods, specifically the carrier’s obligations to the cargo owner. Here’s the significance of these rules:

  1. Standardization and Clarity: Before the Hague Rules (which preceded the Hague-Visby Rules), terms of carriage were often stipulated by individual contracts, which could vary widely. These rules provided a standard set of provisions that brought consistency to the shipping industry.
  2. Limitation of Carrier Liability: One of the core aspects of the Hague-Visby Rules is the limitation of the carrier’s liability. This means that in the event of loss or damage to cargo, the carrier’s liability is capped at a certain amount unless there is a declaration of the cargo’s value at the time of shipment.
  3. Carrier’s Obligations: The rules stipulate that the carrier must properly and carefully load, handle, stow, carry, keep, care for, and discharge the goods carried. This established a basic standard of care that carriers must adhere to.
  4. Defenses for Carriers: The Hague-Visby Rules list certain defenses that can be used by carriers to exonerate themselves from liability. These include acts of God, acts of war, negligence of the shipper, etc.
  5. Bill of Lading: The rules give legal weight to the “bill of lading”, a crucial document in maritime shipping that serves as a receipt for cargo and represents the contract of carriage.
  6. Modification to the Original Hague Rules: The Hague Rules of 1924 were modified by the Visby Amendments in 1968 and 1979, leading to what is now referred to as the Hague-Visby Rules. These modifications updated certain provisions and limits of liability to be more in line with the realities of modern shipping.
  7. Global Adoption: While not every maritime nation has adopted the Hague-Visby Rules, many have. This means that for shippers and carriers operating in and between these countries, there’s a uniform set of rules governing their transactions.
  8. Foundation for Later Rules: The Hague-Visby Rules, in setting a standard, paved the way for other conventions like the Hamburg Rules and the Rotterdam Rules, both of which sought to address some perceived shortcomings of the Hague-Visby framework and adapt to the changing dynamics of international trade and shipping.

The Hague-Visby Rules play a pivotal role in international maritime law, offering a framework that dictates the rights, responsibilities, and liabilities of carriers and shippers in the international transport of goods by sea. They offer a balance between protecting the rights of cargo owners and understanding the challenges and risks faced by carriers.


Time Charter Parties and Hague-Visby Rules 

Let’s delve into the relationship between Time Charter Parties and the Hague-Visby Rules.

Time Charter Parties:

A time charter is one of the primary forms of chartering a ship. In a time charter, the shipowner leases the vessel to the charterer for a specified period. The shipowner provides the crew, maintains the vessel, and pays for its operating costs, while the charterer pays for the fuel and port charges and decides the ports of call and the cargo to be carried.

Hague-Visby Rules:

As explained in the previous response, the Hague-Visby Rules are a set of international regulations governing the carriage of goods by sea, setting out the rights and obligations of parties involved in the shipping of goods.

Relationship between Time Charter Parties and Hague-Visby Rules:

  1. Nature of Contract: Typically, the Hague-Visby Rules apply to contracts of carriage covered by a bill of lading or any similar document. A time charter party, on its own, is not a contract of carriage but rather a contract for the hire of the vessel. Thus, strictly speaking, the Hague-Visby Rules don’t apply directly to time charter parties.
  2. Bill of Lading in Time Charters: Even under a time charter, a bill of lading is often issued for the benefit of third-party cargo interests (like shippers or receivers). When this happens, the Hague-Visby Rules can become applicable, provided the bill of lading falls within the criteria set out in the Rules.
  3. Incorporation of Hague-Visby Rules: It’s common in some charter parties, including time charters, to have a clause that incorporates the Hague-Visby Rules by reference, making them applicable to that specific charter. This is especially common in situations where the charterer might issue bills of lading under its own name (charterer’s bill of lading) and wants to ensure that the same defenses and limits of liability under the Hague-Visby Rules are available.
  4. Conflict of Terms: Issues might arise when there’s a conflict between the terms of the time charter and the Hague-Visby Rules, especially when the rules are incorporated into the charter. Such conflicts need to be resolved, often through legal interpretation or arbitration.
  5. Protection for Shipowners: Time charterers often issue bills of lading to third parties for cargo carriage. In situations where the shipowner might be held liable under such a bill of lading, the incorporation of the Hague-Visby Rules can serve as a shield, offering the shipowner the same defenses and limited liabilities the Rules provide.

Relationship between Time Charter Parties and Hague-Visby Rules:

  1. Due Diligence & Seaworthiness: One of the cornerstones of the Hague-Visby Rules is the carrier’s obligation to ensure the ship is seaworthy before and at the beginning of the voyage. In the context of time charters, this obligation predominantly rests with the shipowner. It’s crucial for time charterers to be aware of this responsibility, especially when chartering older vessels or when operating in regions with challenging weather conditions.
  2. Subsequent Charters: In some scenarios, time charterers may sub-charter the vessel to another entity. In such cases, it’s essential to ensure that the terms of the original time charter (especially if the Hague-Visby Rules have been incorporated) are understood and adhered to by all involved parties. Misunderstandings can lead to liabilities, especially if bills of lading are issued under the sub-charter and they conflict with the main charter’s terms.
  3. Cargo Damage & Claims: If cargo damage occurs, the Hague-Visby Rules lay out specific provisions regarding notice and time periods for making claims. These become critically important for all parties involved in a time charter. Charterers, in particular, should be aware of these requirements to ensure that any claims made by third parties (like cargo owners) are addressed promptly and within the stipulated timelines.
  4. Jurisdictional Variations: While the Hague-Visby Rules are internationally recognized, not all countries have adopted them. Furthermore, some nations have implemented variations or added specific national clauses. For charterers operating across multiple jurisdictions, understanding these variations is paramount.
  5. Arbitration and Dispute Resolution: Time charter parties often include arbitration clauses that determine how disputes will be resolved. If the Hague-Visby Rules have been incorporated into the charter, it’s essential to ensure that the chosen arbitration mechanism is compatible with the provisions of the Rules.
  6. Future Trends: As maritime trade evolves and new conventions emerge (like the Rotterdam Rules), the interplay between traditional chartering practices and international carriage rules will continue to be dynamic. Both shipowners and charterers need to stay updated on global trends and regulatory shifts.

In essence, while time charter parties and the Hague-Visby Rules operate in distinct realms within maritime trade, the overlap between them is substantial, especially in today’s complex shipping environment. Properly navigating this overlap is crucial for minimizing risks and ensuring smooth maritime operations. Parties involved in chartering should always seek expert advice or legal counsel when crafting agreements to ensure their interests are well-protected.

While the Hague-Visby Rules aren’t directly designed for time charter parties, the intersection between the two arises when Bills of Lading (B/L) are issued under a Time Charter or when parties choose to incorporate the Hague-Visby Rules into their charter party agreement. Understanding how the two relate is essential for both shipowners and charterers to navigate their respective rights and liabilities in the complex world of maritime trade.


What do the Hague-Visby Rules apply to?

The Hague-Visby Rules apply to contracts for the international carriage of goods by sea. Specifically, the Rules apply to the following:

  1. Bill of Lading: The Hague-Visby Rules primarily apply to contracts of carriage that are covered by a bill of lading. A bill of lading is a document issued by a carrier (or their agent) to a shipper that serves as a receipt for the goods shipped, evidence of the contract of carriage, and a document of title for the goods.
  2. Certain Type of Ships: The Hague-Visby Rules apply to carriage of goods by sea in ships carrying goods from a port in a state that is a party to the Hague-Visby Rules.
  3. Geographical Application: The Hague-Visby Rules come into play when the port of loading, the port of discharge, or the place where the bill of lading is issued is located in a contracting state.
  4. Other Contracts: Even if a contract of carriage isn’t covered by a bill of lading per se, if such a contract states that it is subject to the Rules or legislation that gives effect to them, the Hague-Visby Rules can still apply. For instance, a “waybill” might not traditionally fall under the purview of the Rules, but if the contract says it’s subject to them, then they would apply.
  5. Limitations: The Hague-Visby Rules don’t apply to charter parties unless a bill of lading is issued under the charter party terms and conditions. However, if a bill of lading is issued in such a scenario, the Rules would then apply to that bill of lading.
  6. Goods: The Hague-Visby Rules only apply to contracts that involve the carriage of goods by sea. They do not apply to contracts that solely involve the carriage of passengers.

It’s important to note a few additional points about the application of the Hague-Visby Rules:

  • Not Universally Adopted: While many countries have adopted the Hague-Visby Rules, not all have. As a result, the applicability of the Rules can vary depending on the jurisdiction in question.
  • Superseding Rules: In places where newer conventions, like the Rotterdam Rules, have been adopted, the Hague-Visby Rules might be superseded and no longer apply.
  • National Variations: Some countries have adopted the Hague-Visby Rules with their own specific reservations or modifications.

For anyone involved in international maritime trade, understanding whether or not the Hague-Visby Rules apply to a particular contract of carriage is crucial. It can significantly impact rights, obligations, and potential liabilities. Always consider seeking legal advice in specific cases to ensure clarity on the matter.