Ship Detention

Laytime is at the free disposal of the charterer since he is regarded as having paid for it in the freight. He is entitled to use it in the way which suits him best and, provided that the agreed period  is not  exceeded, the shipowner is not  entitled  to complain that  the cargo could  have been loaded  in a shorter  time. ‘The method of loading  and discharging  the ship is entirely a matter for the charterers to decide . . . Nor is it of any consequence to the owners whether  the loading  or discharge proceed  very slowly on some days and exceptionally fast on others or at an  even  pace.  All that  matters  to  the  owners  is the  actual  time  occupied  by those  operations.’ The most striking example of this principle in operation is to be found  in the case of Margaronis Navigation Agency v Peabody where a vessel had been chartered  to load a full and complete cargo of maize at an average rate of 1,000 tons per weather working day of 24 hours, Sundays and holidays  excepted. The charterers were required  by the master to provide a cargo of 12,600  tons  and  when,  by 5 p.m.  on Friday, 27 December,  all but 11 tons  16 cwt. of this amount had  been  loaded,  they instructed the stevedores  to stop  work as they were anxious for business  reasons  to  obtain January  bills  of lading.  Loading  was resumed at 8 a.m.  on Tuesday, 2 January, the next working day in the port, and was completed in 40 minutes, after which  the vessel sailed. Although  the operation had  been  completed within  the agreed lay- time,  the  shipowners nevertheless  claimed  damages  for detention on  the  ground that  the charterers  had  wrongfully  detained the  vessel for their  own  purposes after a full cargo had been loaded.  While admitting that the charterer’s obligation ‘was to load a full and complete cargo subject to the de minimis rule’,  the Court of Appeal nevertheless  upheld the decision of  the  arbitrator that,  in  view  of  the  accuracy  of  the  loading   equipment being  used,  a shortage  of approximately 12  tons  (i.e.  less than  0.01  per  cent)  was not  a commercially insignificant  amount and so the charterers were entitled  to detain  the vessel until the balance of the agreed cargo was loaded. In contrast,  once the loading  operation has been completed, the charterer  has no right to detain  the vessel further,  even though the laytime  has not  expired.  In Nolisement (Owners) v Bunge y Born  the loading  was completed some 19 days before the expiration of the lay days, but the charterers  delayed  a further  three days before presenting bills of lading to the master since they were unable  to decide on the port of discharge. They were held liable for damages for two days’ detention. It would  seem a little inconsistent for the charterer  to be penalised for detaining the vessel after the completion of loading  if he could  retain complete freedom of action  by withholding a minimal amount of cargo. Finally, it must be noted that the loading stage is not complete until the cargo is aboard the vessel and also stowed. Although stowage of the cargo is normally the responsibility of the shipowner and the cost is usually borne by him, it is nevertheless regarded as part of the loading operation and the charterer is under an obligation to bring the cargo alongside the vessel in sufficient time to enable the shipowner to complete the stowage within the lay days. With the completion of the loading operation, the end of the second stage of the voyage charterparty is reached and the risk of subsequent delay due to accidental hindrances and obstructions reverts to the shipowner. Consequently, if after the cargo has been stowed the vessel is prevented from embarking on the carrying voyage by reason of ice or bad weather, the cost of the delay must be borne by the shipowner