Saturday, June 22, 2024

Detention claim due to delayed departure from Ice Port

Delayed departure due to ice conditions vs Masters’ unreasonable conduct– whether Owners or Charterers are responsible for the waiting time and extra berth charges

The dispute

The Owners were asserting a claim for detention due to the waiting time to depart the Vessel, coupled with additional berth dues. Their argument hinges on a breach of the warranty to trade the Vessel to ice-free ports. According to the Owners, substantial evidence indicated icy conditions at this port, which caused delays in the Vessel’s departure.

The Parties’ contentions in brief

The Charterers challenged the Owners’ claim on multiple grounds:

  1. Laytime ends upon completion of discharge. Any risk of delay in departure thereafter falls on the Owners.
  2. The Charterers argued that the pictures provided do not show the presence of navigational ice but rather “nilas,” which can be effectively cleared away by tugboats. They contended that substances like nilas do not meet the criteria for ice, thus rendering the port non-ice free.
  3. The Charterers asserted that upon the Vessel’s arrival at the port, the Owners assessed the port condition and chose to proceed for berthing without raising any objections. They argued that the Owners’ subsequent conduct altered the terms of the Charterparty and therefore, they were estopped from bringing this claim now (arguments re variation/ estoppel).
  4. As per the agents, other Vessels departed without encountering any delays. They attribute the delays in departure to the masters’ unreasonable conduct. Additionally, photographic evidence clearly depicts another ship sailing from the port. These vessels were similar in size and type, and no damages were reported.
  5. The Charterers argued that the alleged extra costs did not arise from an independent or additional obligation brokened by them. They contended that the matter was governed by the laytime terms, and that was the Owners’ sole remedy. Even if there was any delay in departure, they asserted it was due to the masters’ failure to depart timely.

The Owners’ replied as follows:

  1. The Owners contended that this was not merely a laytime dispute, but rather a claim for damages for detention and/or quantum meruit.
  2. The Owners asserted that according to published ice charts, there was indeed a presence of ice. They emphasized that the parties explicitly agreed for the Vessel to only call at “ice-free” ports. They argued that there is no technical distinction between thin or thick ice, only whether the port qualifies as ice-free.
  3. The Owners maintained that the conditions at the time of the Vessel’s arrival have significantly changed compared to the ice conditions prior to departure. They denied that the Owners varied the terms of the charter-party. The Owners argued that they reserved their rights to bring a later claim by calling this ice port, thus constituting a breach of the warranted terms. They believed they had a valid claim for damages for detention and/or, alternatively, a quantum meruit claim for performing this extra-contractual service.
  4. The Owners said that they were not aware of the agreed terms or the conditions under which the other ships departed, including whether damages were sustained or not. Regardless, they emphasized that the master, being on the spot, was best positioned to assess the dangers and make the final decision regarding the safety of the Vessel and Crew. They argued that it was not for the Charterers to second-guess the master’s decision taken in the circumstances.
  5. The Owners asserted that the master acted reasonably in the given circumstances. They argued that the extra berth charges arose directly from the Charterers’ breach to call an ice port, and thus, these costs should rightfully be attributed to the Charterers.

Note: These are just observations and not the author’s opinion on the matter.

Related Articles

Latest Articles