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 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 penalized 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 charter-party 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