In September 2014 we handled a matter on behalf of the owner of an inland vessel involving project cargo which had been severely damaged after hitting a bridge and for which a substantial claim had been pursued by the cargo interests. A couple of years after the incident the matter was heard by the Court of Rotterdam which ruled that the shipowner could not be held liable for the damage. As the decision was not appealed we are now in a position to report about the matter.
During the investigation into the cause of the collision with the bridge, it emerged that shipowner had been informed by his charterers and the shipper that the cargo had a maximum height of 12 meters whereas the actual height turned out to be 13 meters. Since the shipowner had used the dimensions provided to prepare the voyage, it was clear that the cause of the incident could be traced back to the incorrect cargo information and not to an error on the part of the shipowner. In the opinion of the court the Master had allowed sufficient margin assuming that the cargo was 12 meters high and that was satisfied that the difference was not visible to the naked eye. The court ruled that in accordance with article 6 CMNI that the shipper and the charterer must guarantee the accuracy of the cargo specifications which it had communicated with the carrier. They are therefore responsible for all damage and costs incurred by the carrier (article 8 CMNI) and in turn, could not hold the shipowner liable for damage to the cargo. On this basis, the court ruled in favour of the shipowner holding that he was not liable for the damage to the cargo or the further consequences of the incident.
We are of course pleased with the outcome of the case, however we would like to advise all members and insureds to request the full specification of the cargo prior to each voyage and, in case of doubt, to immediately notify the charterer and shipper with the request to verify the accuracy of the specifications of the cargo and suitability of the cargo dimensions for the intended voyage.