Construction of laytime provision – absence of discharging equipment (vacuators) not depriving ship of state of readiness
Grain was shipped from the United States Gulf to Egypt.
The charterparty contained provisions for the supply of two vacuators. The first clause required the owners to supply sufficient vacuators to achieve a specific rate of discharge. The second clause provided that the owners would guarantee a minimum number of vacuators (6).
A first Notice of Readiness was rejected on the basis that the vessel did not have any vacuators. Three days later, three vacuators were put on board which were capable of discharging at a rate greater than the specified rate. Thereafter three further vacuators were put on board and a second Notice of Readiness tendered which was accepted.
The vessel only berthed about one month later. Two vacuators broke down during the course of discharge and the extent of the time lost due to the breakdown was common cause between the parties.
The effect of the absence of the vacuators on the computation of laytime and demurrage was disputed.
Staughton J in the Commercial Court found that on the construction of this particular contract, the commencement of laytime was not linked to the obligation on the owners to provide vacuators. He reasoned that the ship was ready in itself to discharge and that as the vacuators were to be obtained from shore, their absence did not affect the readiness of the ship in itself.
The court held that the first Notice of Readiness was effective.
Although not spelled out in the judgement, it appears that laytime commenced with the giving of the first notice despite the vessel not being in berth.
Insofar as the owners themselves saw the need for a second notice, once a sufficient number of vacuators had been obtained, the conclusion reached by the court is open to doubt.
An interesting question not decided by the court is in the interaction between the two provisions relating to the supply of vacuators. A common sense solution would be to give the guarantee of a minimum discharge rate, precedence. In other words, should the owners have supplied vacuators with superior specifications able to perform the work of six vacuators, the shortfall in the number of vacuators supplied would be irrelevant. The guarantee in respect of the number of vacuators would not be superfluous if the required discharge rate was not achieved for reasons not due to the charterers fault.
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