71. The Venezuela [1980] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 393

Sub-charterer’s liner bill of lading – signed by sub-charterers’ agent on behalf of master.

The facts

A cargo of magnesite was shipped from Japan to Venezuela under a bill of lading on the sub-charterer’s form. The sub-charterer ran a liner service from Japan to South American ports. The sub-charterers, based in South America, appointed agents in Japan. The bill was signed by the sub-charterer’s agent in Japan as “general agents and as agents for the Master”.

The cargo owners sought to hold the sub-charterers liable on the bill. The sub-charterers contended that as the bill had been signed on behalf of the Master and because the vessel was on time charter, leaving the control of the vessel in the hands of the owners, this was an owner’s bill. The bill of lading identified the sub-charterer as the carrier.

Findings

The court (Sheen J) accepted the principle set out in Tillmanns & Co. v SS Knutsford Ltd that the signature of the Master would usually bind the owners where the charterparty did not amount to a demise of the ship but found that the sub-charterers were liable on the bill.

The court viewed the matter from the perspective of the cargo owner / shipper to whom there was nothing to indicate that the contracting party was any other than the sub-charterer.

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