What is a Charter Party? Carta Partita

International chartering started with the Phoenicians in Carthage, when merchants chartered vessels for Mediterranean and North European trading. In Ancient Rome there was a vessel-chartering market of sorts dealing in Egyptian grain prices on arrival at Ostia (Rome’s seaport). In other words, chartering ships is not a new concept. The main difference compared to today is that, until the late 19th century, some masters (i.e. captains) of vessels often had complete authority to fix cargoes and maximise earnings for the owners in return for a profit-share agreement. Sometimes the masters owned the vessels (as they still do on some coasters and Rhine barges today). However, the master would conduct his own negotiations in person in whatever port his ship was moored, draw up a contract with a merchant and tore it in half (one half for the merchant, one for the master). This is the origin of the term ‘charterparty’ – an anglicised version of the Latin words ‘Carta Partita’, meaning a document (Carta), which has been divided or split (Partita). One of the halves was placed on board the ship and the other half was kept by the trader. When the ship arrived at her destination, the receiver of the cargo produced the shipper’s half of the document, thus proving that he was the rightful owner of the goods. The enormous growth of world trade in the 19th and 20th centuries led to faster steamships, followed historically by ships powered by fuel and diesel. Ships were on increasingly longer voyages away from their ‘home ports’ and the ships’ masters were no longer able to conduct their own negotiations. So the shipowners used shipbrokers to find the next cargoes and negotiate the contracts for their carriage