There is an Implied Term that the vessel on which the goods are to be carried will be Seaworthy Vessel in any contract for the carriage of goods by sea.
A voyage charterparty is no different and it is an Implied Term of the Voyage Charterparty that the vessel will be seaworthy at the time she is presented for loading.
By Seaworthy Vessel it is meant that the vessel will be in such a condition as to allow her to carry the cargo safely from the load port to the discharge port.
Seaworthiness therefore encompasses many things in relation to a vessel including not only the condition of her hull but also the state of her machinery, cargo spaces, competency of her officers and crew.
Furthermore, in certain trades, Seaworthiness take into account preceding cargoes carried on board the vessel. Almost all charterparties do not rely upon the implied obligation to provide a Seaworthy Vessel but make an express statement and requirement that the vessel be seaworthy on delivery.
Commonly, the obligation of Seaworthy Vessel is reduced to an obligation that the Shipowners will exercise due diligence to provide a vessel that is seaworthy. The obligation of due diligence is also found in the Hague and/or Hague-Visby Rules.
The test of Seaworthy Vessel and the condition required of a ship will depend upon the stage of the voyage and task that is required of the vessel. This has given rise to the doctrine of stages.
To determine Seaworthy Vessel, the usual test is to ask oneself whether a prudent shipowner, with knowledge of the issue on the part of the vessel, would have allowed his ship to proceed to sea.
The question is asked with 20/20 hindsight as clearly no issues as to seaworthiness will ever arise until there has been an incident. On a strict interpretation the test should ask whether the vessel is in a condition which is suitable to perform the next stage of the voyage required.
Clearly, during the loading process the vessel will often need to have hatches open and she cannot proceed to sea in this condition and it would be foolhardy to do so.
However, the vessel will be seaworthy for the task of loading cargo because that is the stage required of her.
Similarly, a vessel which undertakes engine repairs whilst safely tied up alongside a berth is not a Seaworthy Vessel to proceed to sea but may remain seaworthy to undertake the loading or discharging operation which is required. When the ship sails down a river, she must be fit for the down river voyage. Before she gets to the open sea she must be fit for the risks of a Sea Voyage because the vessel must be fit for the particular voyage and her condition must relate to that voyage.
Accordingly, a vessel which is overloaded and therefore in breach of load line regulations for the seasonal conditions experienced in any of the location she passes through would be Unseaworthy Vessel.
So a ship which may be suitable for a trade in the Caribbean in tropical waters may, at the very same time, be unseaworthy for a voyage in the North Atlantic ocean in wintertime. The issue of seaworthiness is specific and particular to the vessel and the trade concerned.