How Cargo Ships Charterparties Are Negotiated?

How Cargo Ships Charterparties Are Negotiated?

Charterparty negotiations for cargo ships are intricate processes involving several stages and parties, mainly the shipowners and charterers (or their brokers). The objective is to reach an agreement that clearly specifies the terms and conditions under which a vessel will be chartered. Here’s an overview of how these negotiations typically proceed:

  1. Initial Contact:
    • The process often begins when a charterer or its broker circulates a “cargo order” or “requirements” indicating they are in the market for a vessel. This will usually outline basic requirements, such as cargo type, size, loading and discharging ports, and desired dates.
    • Shipowners or their brokers will respond with “positions,” which are vessels that meet (or come close to meeting) the charterer’s needs.
  2. Offer and Counter-Offer:
    • The shipowner makes an initial offer outlining the main terms under which they are willing to charter the vessel. This typically includes the rate (freight rate or hire rate), duration, laycan (laydays and cancelling), and other essential terms.
    • The charterer reviews the offer and either accepts it or makes a counter-offer with adjusted terms.
    • This back-and-forth can continue until both parties reach a consensus or decide not to proceed further.
  3. Involvement of Brokers:
    • Brokers often play a pivotal role in these negotiations. They not only help find potential matches between charterers and vessels but also assist in the negotiation process, drawing on their expertise and market knowledge to facilitate a fair agreement.
    • They act as intermediaries, ensuring effective communication between both parties and smoothing over any challenges or disagreements.
  4. Detailed Negotiations:
    • Once the main terms are agreed upon, the parties dive deeper into the charterparty’s specifics, including operational details, responsibilities, any additional clauses, and so on.
    • Common negotiation points include demurrage rates, off-hire clauses, bunker specifications, stowage, and loading/discharge rates, among others.
  5. Finalizing the Charterparty:
    • After all terms are agreed upon, a formal charterparty document is drawn up. This document outlines all the agreed terms and conditions.
    • Both parties review the document, and once it is satisfactory, they proceed to sign it.
  6. Use of Standard Forms:
    • To streamline negotiations, the shipping industry often employs standard charterparty forms, which provide a baseline of terms and conditions. These can be modified as per the specific needs of the parties involved.
    • Examples of standard forms include the NYPE (for time charters) or the GENCON (for voyage charters).
  7. Due Diligence:
    • Before finalizing the charter, both parties often conduct due diligence. Charterers might want to ensure the vessel is in good condition, has the necessary certifications, and meets all safety and operational standards.
    • Similarly, shipowners might check the charterer’s financial standing to ensure they can meet their payment obligations.
  1. Fixing the Deal:
    • Once both parties have agreed upon all terms and the charterparty is signed, the deal is said to be “fixed.”
    • The brokers, if involved, send out a “fixture note” summarizing the main terms of the agreement to both parties, serving as a quick reference and confirmation of the deal.
  2. Post-Fixture Operations:
    • After the charterparty is finalized, attention shifts to the operational aspects. This involves coordinating the vessel’s schedule, ensuring it reaches the loading port in the stipulated laycan, liaising with port agents, and ensuring all required preparations for the cargo (e.g., tank cleaning for tankers).
    • Throughout the voyage, continuous communication is maintained between the shipowner, charterer, and often the brokers to ensure all terms of the charterparty are adhered to and any issues are promptly addressed.
  3. Settlement and Payments:
  • Depending on the terms of the charterparty, the charterer will make payments. This could be in the form of freight (for voyage charters), hire (for time charters), or other agreed-upon fees.
  • Any additional charges, such as demurrage (for delays beyond the agreed laytime) or despatch (a reward for faster operations), are settled post-voyage.
  1. Dispute Resolution:
  • Despite best efforts, disputes can arise, perhaps due to disagreements over delays, cargo damage, or off-hire claims. Most charterparties contain clauses specifying how disputes will be handled, often pointing to arbitration in a designated location under a specific legal framework.
  • Resolving disputes amicably is always preferred, but when that’s not possible, arbitration or legal recourse might be necessary.
  1. Feedback and Relationship Building:
  • After the charter’s conclusion, both parties often provide feedback, helping each other improve future operations. Over time, charterers and shipowners can build strong relationships, leading to repeat business and more straightforward negotiations in the future.
  1. Monitoring Market Conditions:
  • Both charterers and shipowners keep a close eye on market conditions, which can influence charter rates, vessel availability, and demand for cargo space. External factors like geopolitical events, economic shifts, or even weather conditions can impact shipping markets.
  • By staying informed, both parties can position themselves advantageously for future negotiations and charters.

While the negotiation and conclusion of a charterparty are vital processes, the relationship between a charterer and shipowner is ongoing, often extending beyond the individual charter’s duration. Effective communication, mutual respect, and adherence to the agreed-upon terms are paramount to ensuring successful and profitable voyages for both parties.

Charterparty negotiations can be complex, particularly for long-term charters or specialized vessels. Given the intricacies and legal implications of charterparties, many participants also involve legal professionals to ensure the terms are clear, fair, and enforceable.

What are the steps in Chartering Negotiation?

Chartering negotiation involves a series of steps that allow both the charterer and the shipowner (or their representatives) to come to a mutually beneficial agreement for the use of a vessel. The process can vary in complexity based on the specifics of the charter, but the general steps involved are:

  1. Market Research:
    • Both charterers and shipowners monitor the shipping market for prevailing rates, vessel availabilities, and demand for space.
    • Information sources can include market reports, broker insights, and industry news.
  2. Initial Communication:
    • Charterers or their brokers send out a “cargo order” or “requirements” indicating they are seeking a vessel.
    • Shipowners or their brokers respond with vessel “positions” that match or come close to the charterer’s specifications.
  3. Offer and Counter-Offer:
    • Shipowners present an initial offer detailing the main charter terms.
    • Charterers review and either accept, reject, or provide a counter-offer.
    • This back-and-forth continues until preliminary terms are tentatively agreed upon.
  4. Detailed Negotiation:
    • Parties negotiate in-depth over the specifics of the charterparty, like laytime, demurrage rates, off-hire clauses, fuel specifications, etc.
    • Negotiations can get intricate, especially for long-term charters or specialized ships.
  5. Final Agreement and Fixing:
    • Once all terms are negotiated and agreed upon, the deal is said to be “fixed.”
    • Brokers issue a “fixture note” summarizing the main terms as a quick reference.
  6. Drawing Up the Charterparty:
    • A formal charterparty document, detailing all the agreed terms, is drafted.
    • This can be based on industry-standard forms, which are then customized to the specifics of the agreement.
  7. Review and Signature:
    • Both parties review the charterparty to ensure it reflects the agreed-upon terms.
    • After mutual satisfaction, the charterparty is signed by both parties, formalizing the agreement.
  8. Post-Fixture Activities:
    • Operational coordination starts, ensuring the vessel reaches the loading port on time and all preparations are in place.
    • Continuous communication is maintained throughout the charter duration to address any issues or changes in plans.
  9. Payments and Settlements:
    • As per the charterparty terms, the charterer makes payments, which could be freight charges, daily hire, or other fees.
    • Additional charges, such as demurrage or dispatch, are settled upon completion of loading/discharge operations or at the end of the charter.
  10. Feedback and Relationship Management:
  • After the charter’s conclusion, feedback is exchanged, allowing both parties to improve future operations and potentially build a long-term business relationship.
  1. Dispute Resolution (if needed):
  • If disagreements arise during or after the charter, the charterparty’s dispute resolution clause is invoked, often involving arbitration or mediation.

Successful chartering negotiation involves a mix of market knowledge, effective communication, flexibility, and trustworthiness. While the above steps provide a general framework, the specifics can vary based on individual charter requirements and the parties involved.


When do Chartering Negotiations become binding?

In chartering negotiations, the binding nature of agreements can be a complex matter. Generally, negotiations themselves are non-binding explorations of terms until both parties reach a mutual agreement on all terms and signify their clear intention to enter into a binding contract. Here’s how the process unfolds:

  1. Offer and Counter-Offer:
    • The initial stages of chartering negotiations involve a series of offers and counter-offers. At this point, the discussions are preliminary, and neither party is bound by their proposals.
  2. “Subject To” Clauses:
    • Often, during negotiations, parties will make agreements that are “subject to” certain conditions. For example, a party might agree to terms “subject to management approval,” “subject to satisfactory inspection of the vessel,” or “subject to contract.”
    • These “subject to” clauses mean that the agreement is not yet binding. Only once all such conditions are fulfilled or lifted will the parties be bound.
  3. The Fixture Note:
    • Once both parties have reached a consensus on all terms and have lifted all “subject to” clauses, brokers typically send out a “fixture note.” This document summarizes the agreed terms and serves as a confirmation of the deal.
    • When this note is issued, and all subjects are lifted, the agreement becomes binding, even if the formal charterparty document has not yet been signed.
  4. The Charterparty:
    • After the fixture note, a formal charterparty document is drawn up, detailing all the agreed terms. This document provides a comprehensive record of the contract.
    • The signing of the charterparty reaffirms the binding nature of the agreement. However, as mentioned above, the deal is usually considered binding upon the lifting of “subject to” clauses and the issuance of the fixture note.
  5. Good Faith and Custom:
    • Chartering negotiations also rely heavily on the principle of good faith and industry custom. Parties are expected to negotiate in good faith and not mislead the other. While this might not be legally binding in all jurisdictions, bad faith negotiations can harm a party’s reputation in the tight-knit shipping industry.
  6. Written vs. Oral Agreements:
    • In some jurisdictions and situations, even oral agreements can be binding if there’s evidence that both parties intended to form a contract. However, given the complexity and the financial stakes involved in chartering, written confirmations (like the fixture note and the charterparty) are paramount.
  7. Legal Implications:
    • If a party backs out of a binding agreement without justification, they may face breach of contract claims. The aggrieved party could seek damages or specific performance, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

It’s crucial for parties involved in chartering negotiations to be clear about their intentions and understand at what point their discussions become a binding commitment. It’s also advisable to involve legal counsel or experienced brokers familiar with industry practices to navigate this process effectively.


Nautica Marine Ltd v. Trafigura Trading LLC (Leonidas) 2020

  1. Definition of “Subject” or “Sub”: In charterparty negotiations, the term “subject” or “sub” typically indicates a pre-condition. Until this condition is “lifted” or satisfied, a binding contract does not come into existence.
  2. Background: Trafigura and Nautica entered into negotiations for the charter of the vessel, Leonidas. The preliminary recap included various subjects, with the “Suppliers’ Approval Subject” being central to the dispute. The parties had until 13 January 2016 to lift these subjects.
  3. 13 January Telephone Call: Trafigura lifted all subjects except for the Suppliers’ Approval Subject. However, by the end of the day, Trafigura communicated that they couldn’t lift all subjects for the vessel. Nautica then claimed Trafigura was in breach of contract and sought damages.
  4. Commercial Court Decision:
    • The Court differentiated between two types of “subjects”: pre-conditions and performance conditions.
    • Pre-conditions prevent a contract from arising until they are satisfied. Performance conditions, on the other hand, might indicate a binding contract, with the condition itself being a term of the contract.
    • The Court held that in charterparty negotiations, “subjects” or “subs” typically indicate pre-conditions.
    • The Court sided with Trafigura’s broader interpretation of the “Suppliers’ Approval Subject” and determined it was a pre-condition. Since Trafigura never lifted this subject, no binding contract was formed, and Nautica’s claim for damages failed.
  5. Additional Observations: The Court noted that if the Suppliers’ Approval Subject had been a performance condition, Trafigura would have been obligated to reasonably seek the suppliers’ approval. If they failed to do so, damages could have been awarded based on a “loss of chance” basis.
  6. Commentary: This case underscores the importance of clarity in contractual negotiations, especially when dealing with subjects or conditions. All parties involved should be explicit about the terms, responsibilities, and deadlines to avoid potential disputes.

In essence, the case serves as a reminder for parties in charterparty negotiations to be precise and clear about the conditions they set and the implications of those conditions. The distinction between pre-conditions and performance conditions can have significant consequences for the formation of a binding contract.


Negotiation and Charter of a Dry Cargo Ship in Practice

Negotiating and chartering a dry cargo ship involves a series of steps and considerations to ensure that both the shipowner and the charterer’s interests are protected. Here’s a practical overview of the process:

1. Initial Contact:

  • Charterer’s Needs: The charterer identifies a need to transport dry cargo from one location to another.
  • Open Cargo: The charterer or their broker advertises an “open cargo” specifying the type and quantity of cargo, loading port, destination, and preferred loading and unloading dates.

2. Shipowner’s Offer:

  • Open Vessel: Shipowners or their brokers advertise an “open vessel” detailing the ship’s specifications, including its type, size, and availability.
  • Offer: In response to the charterer’s open cargo, the shipowner or their broker offers a vessel that matches the charterer’s requirements.

3. Negotiation:

  • Freight Rate: The primary point of negotiation is the freight rate, which is the price to be paid for the transportation of the cargo.
  • Laytime: This is the time allowed for loading and unloading the cargo. Exceeding this time may result in demurrage charges for the charterer or despatch money for the shipowner.
  • Demurrage and Despatch: Demurrage is a penalty for delays beyond the agreed laytime, while despatch is a reward for completing operations before the laytime expires.
  • Other Terms: These might include payment terms, any special requirements for the cargo (e.g., ventilation), and responsibilities for loading and unloading.

4. Charter Party Agreement:

  • Once terms are agreed upon, a charter party agreement is drawn up. This is a legally binding document that details all the terms and conditions of the charter.
  • Common forms, such as GENCON (for general cargo), might be used as a basis, with specific clauses added or amended as per the negotiation.

5. Pre-Loading:

  • Survey: Before loading, a surveyor might inspect the vessel to ensure it’s fit to carry the cargo.
  • NOR (Notice of Readiness): The shipowner submits this to the charterer when the vessel is ready to load. Laytime starts after a specified period post-NOR.

6. Loading and Voyage:

  • The cargo is loaded onto the vessel. The ship then sails to the destination port.

7. Unloading:

  • Once at the destination, the cargo is unloaded. Any delays beyond the agreed laytime can result in demurrage charges.

8. Post-Voyage:

  • Final Settlement: Any additional charges (like demurrage) or rewards (like despatch) are settled.
  • Redelivery: In a time charter, where the charterer rents the vessel for a period, the ship is returned or “redelivered” to the shipowner.

9. Disputes:

  • If there are disagreements or breaches of the charter party, these might be settled through arbitration or legal proceedings, depending on the terms of the charter party.

Tips for Successful Negotiation and Chartering:

  1. Use Experienced Brokers: They can provide valuable market insights and facilitate negotiations.
  2. Clear Communication: Ensure all terms are clearly understood and agreed upon by both parties.
  3. Due Diligence: Check the credibility and reliability of the other party.
  4. Stay Informed: Keep abreast of market rates and conditions to negotiate effectively.

The negotiation and chartering of a dry cargo ship involve a combination of market knowledge, clear communication, and understanding of the legal and practical aspects of shipping. Both parties should be clear about their responsibilities and rights to ensure a smooth chartering process.


10. Documentation:

  • Bill of Lading (B/L): This is a key document in maritime trade, acting as a receipt for cargo and evidence of the contract of carriage. It can also be a document of title, allowing possession of the cargo to be transferred.
  • Statement of Facts (SoF): This document records all the activities during the ship’s port stay, including arrival, berthing, commencement of operations, and departure. It’s crucial for calculating laytime used.
  • Mate’s Receipt: Issued by the ship’s chief officer, this acknowledges receipt of cargo onboard.

11. Insurance:

  • Both parties should ensure they have adequate insurance. The charterer might need cargo insurance, while the shipowner will need hull and machinery insurance, as well as protection and indemnity (P&I) coverage for third-party liabilities.

12. Safety and Compliance:

  • Ensure the vessel complies with all international and local regulations, especially the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) and MARPOL (Marine Pollution) conventions.
  • The ship should also adhere to the port state control requirements of the loading and discharging ports.

13. Monitoring and Communication During Voyage:

  • Regular updates on the vessel’s position, expected arrival times, and any changes or delays are essential. This helps in planning and can prevent potential disputes.
  • Modern technology, such as satellite tracking and AIS (Automatic Identification System), can facilitate this.

14. Post-Charter Review:

  • After the charter’s conclusion, both parties should review the process to identify any areas of improvement. This can help in future negotiations and charters.
  • Feedback on the vessel’s performance, the efficiency of operations, and the behavior of the crew can be valuable for shipowners.

15. Building Long-Term Relationships:

  • Successful chartering often leads to repeat business. Building a relationship based on trust, reliability, and mutual benefit can ensure smoother negotiations in the future.
  • Both parties should honor their commitments and be open to feedback to foster a long-term working relationship.

Conclusion: The process of negotiating and chartering a dry cargo ship is intricate, with numerous steps and considerations. It’s essential for both charterers and shipowners to be well-prepared, informed, and proactive throughout the process. By ensuring clear communication, adhering to agreed terms, and maintaining a focus on safety and compliance, both parties can benefit from a successful chartering experience.