Seaworthy

Before the Hague Rules (Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 1924) were introduced, the Common Law position was that there was implied in every contract of Carriage of goods by sea an absolute warranty that the vessel was seaworthy at the “commencement of the voyage” and also at the commencement of each “subsequent stage” of the voyage. Only the most clear and unambiguous language in a bill of lading could exclude this implied warranty. The reference to the commencement of each “subsequent stage” of the voyage brought into consideration what was termed as the “Doctrine of Stages” which meant in effect that a ship had to be seaworthy at the commencement of each particular stage of the voyage. For example, a vessel proceeding in ballast as opposed to having cargo on board or a voyage which necessitated the vessel having a long down-river passage prior to setting off across the open sea. Different seaworthiness considerations would apply depending on the section of the voyage contemplated. The 1924 Act and subsequently the 1971 Act categorically abolished the absolute warranty of seaworthiness in all Contracts to which it applied. Shipowners, however, are still under a legal obligation to exercise due diligence to make a vessel seaworthy in all respects and to make cargo compartments fit for the reception of cargo. But a shipowner will not be liable for losses due to unseaworthiness, unless due to want of due diligence. When cargo is delivered into the custody of a shipowner, that shipowner is obligated to issue a bill of lading, on demand, to the shipper, giving full particulars of the goods accepted and, of course, their apparent order and condition. It is apparent that once cargo has been accepted into the custody of the shipowner and the bill of lading issued, then the particulars of that bill constitute “prima facie” evidence that the cargo has in fact been received by the carrier. This obligation to issue the bill of lading does not indeed depend on the goods having been loaded on board the vessel. As we have seen, bills can, in fact, be issued prior to actual shipment on board a vessel and this is done by carriers issuing a received for shipment bill of lading. But when goods are finally loaded on board, a shipper may demand a shipped bill of lading to replace this.