Ship Loading Operation Responsibility

Traditional division of responsibility at common law for the loading operation between shipowner and charterer is based on the ‘alongside rule’. It is the responsibility of the charterer to bring the cargo alongside the vessel and within reach of the ship’s tackle after which
it is the duty of the shipowner to load it. A similar rule operates in reverse in relation to the discharging operation when the consignee is under an obligation to receive the cargo after it has been put over the side by the shipowner and is free of the ship’s tackle. The ‘alongside rule’ represents an appropriate division of labour in the basic situation where the loading and discharging is to be performed by means of the ship’s tackle, since it results in the charterer being responsible for the cost of the work done on land, and the carrier for the work done on board. In modern conditions, however, it bears little resemblance to reality since the loading operation both on shore and aboard is often performed by professional stevedores engaged by a shipbroker acting on behalf of both parties. Again, bulk cargoes are loaded, not by the ship’s tackle, but generally by shore-based mechanical equipment such as elevators, grabs or cranes which are often owned or controlled by the charterers. In such circumstances the charter party may provide that the goods are carried on f.i.o. terms, i.e. that the charterer will perform and pay the cost of both the loading and discharging operations. In the absence of express agreement to the contrary, however, the common law implies the ‘alongside rule’ and the charterer is merely responsible for the cost of bringing the cargo within the reach of the ship’s tackle. Where the vessel is unable to berth in a particular port, this obligation will extend to cover the cost of the necessary lighters to transport the cargo to the ship’s side. The charterer must also bear the risk of any delay during the performance of this obligation and, on the principle established in Grant v Coverdale, will not be able to claim the protection of exceptions which are only applicable to the loading operation.