Conflict of laws – choice of forum predominant factor – proper law applicable despite consequences inimical to HVR regime
Steel coils were shipped from Thessalonika to Ravenna under two bills of lading. After discharge the cargo was found to have been damaged by water.
Clause 24 of the bills of lading provided:
“In case any controversies arise with respect to the construction of the foregoing terms the English text alone to be conclusive. All dispute[s] to be referred to British Courts.”
The bills of lading contained two exemption clauses (clauses 8 and 20).
On the assumption that the HVR applied, cargo was given an extension of time within which a claim was advanced.
Owners put the damage to the cargo in issue and relied on the exemption clauses.
Cargo pleaded that the proper law of the contracts was Greek and that under Greek law the exemption clauses were void. Alternatively, the cargo-owners pleaded that the proper law of the contracts of carriage was English, and so included the Hague-Visby Rules, Article III rule 8 of which rendered the exemption clauses void.
The shipowners rejoined that the proper law of the contracts was English, that the Hague-Visby Rules were not incorporated and that the exemption clauses were effective; if Greek law did apply, the cargo-owners’ claim had become time-barred by the passage of a year after discharge without service of proceedings.
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