Safe Berth

Charterers will be equally liable for the safety of berths, docks and terminals as they are for the safety of the port. In the case of “The Terneuzen’ (1935)” the vessel was damaged at berth in what would otherwise have been a safe port. The Court of Appeal judges found that, although the safety clause only mentioned ports and places, that implied that the berths would also be good and safe. If, for some reason, the safety clause only covers berths then it will not imply that the approach to the port is safe but limits the charterers’ obligation to safe movement to and from the berth or berths. This was held to be the case in “The A P J Priti [1987]”
, in which the court also confirmed that, as with a port, the safety of a berth is to be judged at the time that the charterers give the order to go there. If a vessel is directed to a place to lighten cargo by a port authority can this be considered an order of the charterers if the vessel is damaged? In a case called “The Erechthion [1987]” the judge decided that it could and that the charterers were liable to indemnify the owners for their losses. However, in the light of earlier cases there is some doubt as to whether suppliers or contractors are agents who can bind the charterers if they give orders for the ship to go to a place or berth which is not safe. If the owner agrees to a berth that requires the vessel to lie aground for part of the loading time, then the safety clause will almost certainly imply that the ground must be good and not cause any damage to the vessel’s hull or steering gear.