Shipowners, to protect themselves from claims for marginal Ship Misdescription, will often preface any description of the ship with the word about that introduces a margin of error in favour of the shipowners.
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.
Generally, in relation to a ship’s speed and performance about is taken to mean half a knot in relation to speed and +5% or -5% in relation to fuel consumption.
In ‘EI Yam’ v ‘Invotra’ 1958 the ship 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 Ship Misdescription, and therefore a breach by shipowners, their breach was not repudiatory.
Furthermore, Delvin J indicated, in the context of ‘EI Yam’ v ‘Invotra’ 1958 case, that the meaning of about would have been satisfied by the margin of 1.2% which was in question in relation to the ship’s description.
In earlier cases in relation to deadweight capacity about has been held to encompass a much wider margin.
The ship’s capacity will often be described by reference to her deadweight, bale capacity or container intake capacity.
Ship Misdescription 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 Ship Misdescription.
If the Ship 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.