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Bill of lading signed by sub- charterer

The facts

The sub-charterers of an Italian vessel, the Ruggiero de Flores, signed a bill of lading under which a cargo of fruit and wine was moved from Valencia to Hamburg. En-route, the vessel collided with the Okehampton. The collision was caused by the admitted negligence of the Okehampton.

The sub-charter provide that “the captain shall be under the orders and direction of the charterers as regards employment, agency and other arrangements, but the charterers to indemnify the owners from all consequences or liabilities that may arise from the captain signing bills of lading or from any other irregularity in the ship’s papers”.

The bills of lading were signed by the charterers in their own name as principals.

The sub-charterers sued the Okehampton in rem for the loss of freight stipulated in the bills of lading and bunker coal.


Bargrave Deane J held that the real carrier remains the shipowner and not the charterer and that the sub-charterer was not entitled to sue for freight on the bill of lading for lack of title.

On appeal, Hamilton LJ held that the bill of lading was a contract to which the sub-charterers and not the shipowners were party.

Wehner v Dene was distinguished on the grounds that there the bill of lading had been signed by the master.

As the sub-charterers were party to the bill of lading contracts, they were entitled to recover the
loss of freight and the appeal was successful.

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Charter Party Casebook