When is a trip more than a trip?

The Commercial Court had recently produced guidance on what constitutes a trip under English law. The case concerned a ship called the WEHR TRAVE which was fixed on a time charter trip on the NYPE form. Could the charterers order the vessel on another voyage after the cargo from the first trip was discharged?

By way of background, the first trip involved delivery to charterers at Algeciras and then a ballast to load at three ports in the Black Sea. Discharge was at five ports, the last of which was Dammam. Owners took the view that this was the end of the “trip” but charterers ordered the vessel to ballast to Sohar in Oman and load a project cargo bound for India. Owners argued that this was an illegitimate order because charterers were not contractually entitled under a “one time charter trip” to load a further cargo after the initial cargo had been discharged.

The court disagreed with the owners. It was held that a time charter trip was in fact a period time charter and, as such, the vessel is under the directions and orders of the charterer as regards her employment for the charter period. The only issue therefore was whether the second voyage was within the trading range and redelivery in India was consistent with the charter. It was held that the second voyage was within the scope of the charter and, as such, the owners should have undertaken that voyage.

Like the tribunal, the court rejected owners’ arguments to construe the word “via” as a term identifying and thereby restricting the range at which the vessel might load cargo; and the word “to” as a term identifying – and thereby restricting – the range at which the vessel might discharge cargo. The court did not consider such words as constituting contrary express agreement. In the instant case, the contractual route was a voyage from Algeciras to Colombo/Busan range via the East Mediterranean and/or the Black Sea and/or the Red Sea and/or the Persian Gulf and/or India and/or the Far East (always via the Gulf of Aden and always ending in the Colombo/Busan range).

The Court remarked that it would in any case be commercially unattractive for charterers to have to ballast the vessel to the place of redelivery and pay hire to owners throughout such ballast voyage without having the possibility of earning freight.

This case highlights the need for careful drafting: specifically agreed and sufficiently clear wording is needed to restrict charterers’ right to order the ship to proceed to a port within the geographical range, on the contractual route and not otherwise excluded by the terms of the charter. In the absence of any such clear words, the court will not impose any such restriction.

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