Time Charterers’ Orders And Directions

The Master, officers and crew are employed by the head owner, but the charter party obliges them to comply with charterers’ orders and directions as regards the employment of the vessel ‘within the limits of obviously grave danger’. Orders as to the vessel’s ‘employment’ include where the vessel should sail to and what cargoes she should load. The Master is not obliged to obey orders which charterers are not entitled to give under the terms of the charter, such as an order to load a cargo that is expressly or impliedly excluded by the charter, or to proceed to a port or berth that will expose the vessel to dangers that are not avoidable by ordinary good navigation and seamanship. ‘Employment’ does not include matters of navigation or ship management, which remain at all times the Master’s responsibility. The distinction between ‘employment’ and navigation is usually clear, ‘employment’ being concerned essentially with the economic exploitation of the ship. At times the difference can be harder to recognise. In The ERECHTHION [1987] case the vessel was ordered by charterers to discharge at Port Harcourt. Since her draught was too deep, she was ordered by the harbour master to lighten at an anchorage, where she grounded, sustaining damage. On appeal from arbitrators, the Commercial Court held that the charterers’ order was to be regarded as an order to go to such discharging place as the harbour master should designate. The court agreed that the harbour master’s order was an order as to employment, but it sent the case back to the arbitrators to determine whether the grounding was proximately caused by this order, rather than by the advice of the pilot as to where within the anchorage the ship should anchor, which was a matter of navigation only. An order as to the general route that a vessel should take is also an order regarding ‘employment’, which the Master is obliged to obey, subject only to considerations of safety and seamanship. Finally, an important ‘employment’ right given to charterers is that they are entitled to issue bills of lading on behalf of owners.