Clearly the charterer would prefer greater precision but rarely will the shipowner commit himself to a specific time of arrival at the loading port or even to a specific date for setting sail on the preliminary voyage to that port. By doing so he could make time of the essence of the
contract, in which case the courts would tend to treat any failure to meet the agreed date as a breach of condition entitling the charterer to repudiate the contract. The solution to the problem in the majority of charter forms is to insert a clause requiring
the shipowner to indicate a date at which the vessel is expected to be ready to load and to couple with it a further clause entitling the charterer to cancel the charter should the vessel not have arrived by a specified later date. The combined practical effect of these clauses is to indicate the earliest date at which the charterer may be required to commence loading the cargo and the latest date on which he is bound to accept the vessel for loading. It is naturally in the interest of the charterer that the gap between these dates should be as short
as possible if he is to avoid unnecessary storage costs, whereas the shipowner would prefer the longest possible interval to avoid the risk of losing the charter should the vessel be delayed on the preliminary voyage. In practice the length of the interval will tend to vary in proportion to the time lapse between the signing of the charter and the expected time of arrival at the loading port.
A statement by the shipowner as to the date of expected readiness to load does not amount to an undertaking on his part that the chartered vessel will be ready to load at that date. Consequently, its arrival after that date will not per se amount to a breach of contract entitling the charterer to damages. Indeed, in the absence of an express cancelling clause, the charterer would not be able to repudiate the charter unless the delay was so substantial as to frustrate the object of the enterprise. On the other hand, such a statement is not entirely without effect. The shipowner ‘is undertaking that he honestly and on reasonable grounds believes at the time of the contract that the date named is the date when the vessel will be ready to load’. If, therefore, when he makes the prediction he knows that the vessel cannot reach the loading port by that date, or there are no reasonable grounds for such a belief, then he commits a breach of condition entitling the charterer to repudiate the contract. Thus to provide unqualified ETAs without first making enquiries at the relevant port were held not to have been given on reasonable grounds when such enquiries would have revealed that bad weather, port closure and berthing problems did occur from time to time at the port in question.