John Habergham, Myton Law, Hull U.K.
100 years after it was first introduced and 30 years since the last revision, BIMCO have revised the Uniform General Charter, the most popular form of general charter.
There has been no tinkering this time. It is a major change to it – it looks and smells different. It is certainly longer, in the main driven by BIMCO’s desire to try and avoid the addition to the precedent of lots of rider clauses.
In my experience of GENCON, the typical battlegrounds were the owner’s responsibility clause and the cargo operations clause.
The owner’s responsibilities clause (2) has undergone a big change. The rationale is that this actually predated the Hague Rules of 1924 and was, therefore, well overdue an overhaul.
The owner’s responsibility is defined by reference to two points in time to make the vessel cargo worthy and sea worthy. The former snapshot is at the commencement of each loading and the latter is at the commencement of each cargo carrying voyage. And then the owners agree to properly and carefully carry and care for the cargo whilst on board.
There is now a specific form of clause paramount giving the owner the same protection as given to a carrier under the Hague-Visby Rules.
As for the cargo operations clause, it emphasises the charterer’s liability in this regard – all carried at their risk responsibility and expense and the master only has a supervisory role. The charterer’s obligation now takes in sea worthiness of the vessel – they have to stow and trim etc to ensure that the vessel’s sea worthiness is not affected. Is this a derogation from the owners seaworthiness obligations?
I think that there is still probably room for the “intervention proviso” – in other words, whatever the charter says, if the master in fact intervenes and the cargo is loaded according to his wishes and instructions and this is the cause of loss or damage, then responsibility for cargo operations reverts to the owners, as is the position under the common law.
BIMCO believe that this version is fair as between charterer and owner and, certainly, they have introduced a general exceptions clause which is for the mutual benefit of both parties and is in the form of a force majeure clause.
To coincide with other developments around the world, the charter also caters for the use of electronic bills of lading.
It will be interesting to see the take up of this new version.