Seaworthy Ship

At Common Law the duty to provide a seaworthy ship is absolute. This means that even if the shipowner takes all reasonable care, exercises all due diligence to ensure that the ship is seaworthy, he will nonetheless be liable for breach of the charter party if the ship is not seaworthy. In other words we can say that his liability at Common Law to provide a seaworthy ship is ‘strict’, i.e. no fault liability. (We will see later that, under the Hague-Visby Rules the duty to provide a seaworthy ship is to exercise all due diligence. In other words the shipowner would only be liable under the provisions of the Rules if he had been negligent in securing that the ship was seaworthy). In the Hong Kong Fir Shipping case it was said that the term relating to the seaworthiness of the vessel was an innominate term. i.e. It was not possible to pre-classify the term as being either a condition or warranty when considering the rights of the injured party, but it was necessary to look to the effect of the breach. It is also vital to keep in mind the distinction between the absolute warranty at common law as distinct from the duty to act with due diligence under the Hague-Visby Rules. It is also necessary to distinguish between the obligation of the shipowner to provide a ship which is seaworthy at the beginning of the voyage from the obligation to stow the cargo and care for the cargo after the voyage has commenced. The seaworthiness obligation also encompasses a strict duty to ensure that the vessel is able to carry the cargo provided by the charterer.  One can think in terms of the word seaworthy as including the word “cargoworthy”. A ship would be regarded as unseaworthy by virtue of incompetence of the Master in relation to his knowledge of, for example, how to use a certain fire extinguishing system. Prudent owners of a vessel would not have put the vessel to sea, knowing of the master’s ‘disabling’ lack of knowledge.