Deep Sea Maritime Ltd. v Monjasa A/S (The Alhani)  EWHC 1495 (Comm)
In a recent judgment the English High Court has held that the one year time limit for bringing claims under the Hague Rules applies to claims for misdelivery where the cargo has been delivered by the shipowner without production of the relevant bill of lading.
The facts are straightforward. The shipowner, Deep Sea Maritime Ltd., discharged / delivered cargo to another ship via STS but without production of the relevant bill of lading. The Hague Rules were contractually incorporated into the bill of lading together with an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.
The shipowner brought proceedings in the English High Court against Monjasa and sought a declaration that Monjasa’s claims for misdelivery were subject to Article III Rule 6 of the Hague Rules which 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.” (emphasis added)
Monjasa had separately commenced suit in a number of other jurisdictions in order to advance their claim, including in Tunisia.
Mr. David Foxton QC (as Deputy Judge) dealt with two main issues.
Firstly, he held that the one year time limit under Article III Rule 6 of the Hague Rules applies to misdelivery claims. In coming to this conclusion he focused on the words “in any event” and “all liability” in Article III Rule 6 which have a wide meaning and therefore included misdelivery claims, provided that the misdelivery occurred during the shipowner’s period of responsibility under the Hague Rules and the claims have a sufficient nexus with identifiable goods carried or to be carried.
Secondly, he decided that by bringing suit in Tunisia, Monjasa had not commenced proceedings in the contractually agreed jurisdiction and that therefore these proceedings did not constitute bringing proceedings for the purposes of Article III Rule 6. The Tunisian proceedings had been brought in clear breach of the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the bill of lading providing for the jurisdiction of the English courts.
This judgment brings much needed clarity to the issue of whether the one year time limit set out in the Hague Rules applies to misdelivery claims where the shipowner has delivered cargo without production of the relevant bill of lading, deciding that it does.
Whilst this judgment is relevant to misdelivery claims under the Hague Rules, it is suggested that the same outcome would be reached if the claim had been brought under the Hague-Visby Rules where the amended wording of Article III Rule 6 is drafted in even wider terms by reference to “all liability whatsoever…”.