Owners, to protect themselves from claims for marginal misdescription, will often preface any description of the vessel with the word ‘about’ that introduces a margin of error in favour of the owners. There is little guidance as to what margin is permitted by reference to the word ‘about’. The approach of the courts will seek guidance from what a reasonable commercial person engaged in shipping would understand to be an acceptable margin of error to be allowed for the word ‘about’. In relation to a vessel’s speed and performance ‘about’ is generally taken to mean half a knot in relation to speed and + or -5% in relation to fuel consumption. In ‘EI Yam’ v ‘Invotra’ 1958 the vessel was described as being of about 478,000 cubic feet bale capacity but her actual bale capacity was 484,015 cubic feet. Delvin J held that even if this was a misdescription, and therefore a breach by owners, their breach was not repudiatory. He also indicated, in the context of this case, that the meaning of ‘about’ would have been satisfied by the margin of 1.2% which was in question in relation to the vessel’s description. In earlier cases in relation to deadweight capacity ‘about’ has been held to encompass a much wider margin.
The vessel’s capacity will often be described by reference to her deadweight, bale capacity or container intake capacity. Misdescription of the vessel by over or under statement of any of these characteristics may give rise to the right on the part of the charterers to terminate the charterparty. However, the right to terminate will depend very much on the extent of the breach or misdescription. If the misdescription is minor and therefore of limited consequences then the right to terminate the charterparty is unlikely to arise and charterers would be entitled to claim damages alone.