Ship Voyage

The philosophy behind both the Hague and Hague-Visby states that misfortune risks to cargo should be borne by the cargo owner, whilst misfortune risks to the ship should be borne by the shipowner. As far as human error risks are concerned, a compromise was reached in the Rules whereby responsibility for the ship before commencement of the voyage lay with the shipowner since he had some direct control over the situation, while risks of events during the voyage would be borne by cargo.  This ancient concept is under some strain today due to the efficiency of modern communications whereby a ship can be in virtual constant touch with her owners. Thus the Hague-Visby Rules as incorporated for example in the current UK Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (1971) oblige the shipowner to exercise due diligence at the beginning of the voyage in order to make the ship seaworthy, properly to man, equip and supply the ship, and to make the cargo spaces fit for the carriage of the intended cargo. There is an absolute onus on the shipowner properly and carefully to load, handle, stow, carry, keep, care for and discharge the cargo.  However, provided due diligence has been exercised (the burden of proof in this respect resting with the shipowner, the establishment of which is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s legal climate), a wide range of defences becomes available under the Rules. These include error in navigation or management of the ship, perils of the sea, fire, act of God, war, seizure, quarantine, strikes, riots, inherent vice, insufficiency of packing or marking of goods, latent defects (not discoverable by due diligence) and “any other cause without the actual fault or privity of the carrier”. A further part of the rules lays down a monetary limit of carrier’s liability per package or unit.  Under the current Protocol this is expressed in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and the limit now stands at 666.67 SDRs per package or unit or 2 SDRs per kg. whichever is greater.  The value of SDRs fluctuates daily and is usually quoted in the rate of exchange section of the financial press.