Hague Rules time limit applies to misdelivery claims

News /

Deep Sea Maritime Ltd v Monjasa A/S (The Alhani) [2018] EWHC 1495 (Comm) 

The Court has held that a ship-owner, who had delivered the shipper’s cargo to a third party without production of the relevant bill of lading, could nonetheless rely on the one-year time limit in Article III Rule 6 of the Hague Rules to defeat the shipper’s claim for misdelivery.

The background facts

The dispute arose in relation to a shipment of bunker fuel oil on board the Owners’ oil product tanker from Lome, Togo and destined for Cotonou, Benin. The bill of lading incorporated an exclusive English law and jurisdiction clause from the relevant charterparty, as well as the Hague Rules, which took effect as a matter of contract.

In the event, the cargo was discharged via ship-to-ship transfer off-shore Lome. The cargo was delivered, but without production of the bill of lading, to the buyer under the sale contract. The seller/shipper subsequently contended that it had not received payment for the bunker fuel and that it remained the owner of the cargo. It sought to claim against the Owners for non-delivery of the cargo.

The shipper commenced a number of proceedings in different jurisdictions, including arresting the vessel in Tunisia and subsequently commencing substantive proceedings there in order to determine the merits of the claims. Those proceedings were later dismissed, but remained subject to appeal. The Tunisian proceedings were commenced within 12 months of the misdelivery.

The Owners commenced English proceedings, seeking summary judgment and/or a declaration of non-liability in respect of the shipper’s claims on the ground that these were time-barred pursuant to Article III Rule 6 of the Hague Rules. This provides that:

“In any event the carrier and the ship shall be discharged from all liability in respect of loss or damage unless suit is brought within one year after delivery of the goods or the date when the goods should have been delivered.”

The Commercial Court decision

The Court found in favour of the Owners. It considered that the words used in Article III Rule 6 (“in any event” and “all liability”) were wide enough to encompass any breach of a ship-owner’s obligations under the bill of lading, including liability for delivering the goods to someone not entitled to take delivery of them. The object of finality (allowing a ship-owner to close its books) that the time bar was intended to achieve would be undermined if it did not apply to misdelivery claims. 

The Court’s view was that the time bar was not limited to breaches of the Hague Rules, but would apply to any breach of the contract of carriage, including misdelivery, where that breach occurred during the Hague Rules period of responsibility and where it had a sufficient connection with the cargo that was carried or to be carried. The Court added that the misdelivery claim could in any event have been pleaded as a breach of the Hague Rules because it amounted to a failure to properly and carefully load, stow, carry, keep, care for and discharge the cargo under Article III Rule 2. The Court also rejected the argument that there was any settled understanding that the time bar did not apply to misdelivery claims.        

The Court then considered whether the Tunisian proceedings were effective to interrupt time running for the purposes of the one-year time bar. It decided that they did not. In circumstances where the Tunisian proceedings were brought in breach of the parties’ contractual agreement to bring their claims in the English courts, the Tunisian proceedings did not constitute proceedings before a competent court that satisfied the requirements of Article III Rule 6. It would require exceptional circumstances, which were not present here, for foreign proceedings brought in breach of an exclusive English jurisdiction clause to constitute the bringing of suit for the purposes of Article III Rule 6. Among other considerations highlighted by the Court, the shipper was aware that there was a charterparty to which the Owners were party, and the bill of lading referred to it. Therefore, had the shipper asked for a copy of the Charterparty, it would have known about the exclusive jurisdiction clause. It could not, therefore, rely on any argument that it was unaware of that clause.

In conclusion, therefore, the shipper’s claim for misdelivery was time-barred.


This decision provides important and welcome clarification on the application of the Hague Rules time limit to misdelivery claims. Further, given that the wording of the time bar under the Hague-Visby Rules is even wider in ambit (“all liability whatsoever…”), it is to be expected that the position would be the same under those Rules.

The shipper is appealing this decision.

Fionna Gavin

Fionna Gavin Partner

Related sectors:

Related news & insights

News / Shipping gets smart

20-06-2022 / Maritime

On 25 November 2021, the UK Law Commission published its Advice to the UK Government on how English law currently applies to smart legal contracts. Subsequently, on 16 March 2022, the Law Commission published its report on electronic trade documents, together with draft legislation that would implement its recommendations to allow for the legal recognition of trade documents such as bills of lading and bills of exchange in electronic form.

Shipping gets smart

News / Carrier Under CMR Successful in Limiting Liability for Consignee’s Losses

14-06-2022 / Maritime

Paul Knapfield v. C.A.R.S. Ltd & others [2022] EWHC 1437 (Comm) Disputes under the Carriage of Goods by Road Act 1965, which incorporates the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road 1956 (CMR), do not come up very often. This decision is, therefore, useful in illustrating when and how the CMR applies. In this case, the Court found that the CMR limit of liability applied to the claimant’s claim, with the result that his losses far exceeded the amount he could ultimately recover from the carrier.

Carrier Under CMR Successful in Limiting Liability for Consignee’s Losses

News / CONVERSIONCON: An industry first

14-06-2022 / Maritime

BIMCO has recently published CONVERSIONCON, a new standard form contract for conversion projects. The authors of this article were honoured to be part of the drafting team tasked with developing and producing the first industry standard form contract for conversion projects.

CONVERSIONCON: An industry first

News / Taking a closer look at the biggest factors driving the progress of the UAE’s maritime sector

10-06-2022 / Maritime

As we move past the vertex of a U-shaped dip in the global shipping sector caused by supply chain restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worthwhile to look back at the UAE maritime industry’s growth, lessons learned, and development outlook. Although international maritime trade dropped by 4.1 per cent in 2020, the UAE made significant achievements during this period, ranking third globally in the Bunker Supply Index, and fifth globally as a key competitive maritime hub.

Taking a closer look at the biggest factors driving the progress of the UAE’s maritime sector

News / Court construes scope of indemnity under Mortgagees’ Interest Insurance Policy

06-06-2022 / Insurance, Maritime

Piraeus Bank A.E. v Antares Underwriting Limited and others (The ZouZou) [2022] EWHC 1169 (Comm)

Court construes scope of indemnity under Mortgagees’ Interest Insurance Policy

News / Ince bolsters presence in Greece with seven new hires in Piraeus office

01-06-2022 / Maritime

Ince is growing its Piraeus office with the addition of three shipping litigators, three ship finance experts, and an additional mariner to the admiralty team.

Ince bolsters presence in Greece with seven new hires in Piraeus office