Reasonable Dispatch. Contemporaty insurance law overview

I take reasonable time to mean a time within which a carrier can deliver, using reasonable exertions.
Per Erle C.J in Taylor v Great Northern Rly Co (1866) LR 1 CP 385

Implied obligation to sail without unreasonable delay

In absence of express term a charterparty would impliedly require the shipowner to proceed to the loading or discharging port without unreasonable delay. This implication comes from an assumption adhered to by the courts in marine insurance cases, that an unreasonable delay in performing the voyage insured is an equivalent to a deviation, which makes the policy void.

"If there was any unreasonable delay on the part of the insured, there was no doubt it would avoid the policy", per Lord Kenyon in Smith v Surridge [1804] EngR 63; 4 Esp. 25.
See also Mount v Larkins [1831] EngR 924; 8 Bing 108 per Tindal CJ at p.120: "…unjustifiable delay on the part of the insured, in commencing the voyage insured against, is in the nature of a deviation."

However when arrival time at the load port was specified in the contract, the owner was free to utilise his vessel as he likes until that date. In M’Andrew v Adams (1834) 1 Bing NC 29 Wilde J said at p.37:

In Max v Roberts, Davis v Garrett, Freeman v Taylor, and Mount v Larkins, the time for the voyage was not defined by any such specification of a particular day beyond which the shipowner was to have no claim; and deviation or unreasonable delay expressly appeared. Here, the captain arrived within the specified time; and, provided he accomplished that, he had a right in the interval to employ his vessel as he pleased. With respect to the custom of the trade, he was bound to know the course of the voyage as to stowing and navigating his vessel; but the rise or fall of price in the London market is a matter out of his department. Having arrived before the last day stipulated by the Plaintiffs, he must be deemed to have arrived within a reasonable time.

Unlike deviation, which may take place only on the voyage from port of loading to port of discharge and, unless justified, deprives the owner of any of common carrier’s protections, duty to proceed with reasonable dispatch was equally applicable to both approach and laden voyages but does not generally give to the charterer right to refuse to perform his part of the contract altogether. The charterer is entitled to treat the contract as repudiated only if such delay "goes to the root of the whole matter, deprives the charterer of the whole benefit of the contract, or entirely frustrates the object of the charterer in chartering the ship."

Obligation to proceed with reasonable dispatch same as other duties which have to be performed within reasonable time, always depends on the circumstances which actually exist. Therefore the owner is deemed to have discharged this duty "notwithstanding protracted delay, so long as such delay is attributable to causes beyond his control, and he has neither acted negligently nor unreasonably."

This rule is of general application and requires that the merchant and shipowner should each use reasonable despatch in performing his part, therefore when the charterparty is silent as to time it would be implied that the ship should be unloaded also within a reasonable time.

Modern view on implied obligation to proceed with reasonable dispatch was stated by Moore-Bick J. in The Kriti Rex, [1996] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 171 at p.191:

In many cases that is expressed in terms such as "shall proceed with all convenient speed", but if the charter contains no express term to that effect one will ordinarily be implied: see Louis Dreyfus & Co. v Lauro, (1938) 60 Ll.L.Rep. 94…

…the implied obligation to proceed with reasonable despatch arises from the nature of the contract and is necessary in order to give it commercial efficacy. Its existence is by now so well established that it can be regarded as an ordinary incident of any contract of carriage by sea which exists unless the parties have expressly or by implication provided otherwise. This means that rather than it being necessary for [the charterers] to show that such a term is to be implied in accordance with the criteria established in the authorities to which [council for the owners’] refers, it is for [the owners] to show that in this case the parties agreed that such an obligation should be excluded.
Express term in charterparty to proceed with reasonable dispatch

When charterparty contains express requirement to proceed on the voyage with all reasonable or convenient dispatch, as for example cl.1 of Asbatankvoy, it is often combined with the statement specifying when the vessel is "expected ready" to load.

In The Mihalis Angelos, [1970] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 43 words "expected ready to load" were held to be a condition of the charterparty so that once it has become clear that the term has been breached the charterers can terminate a contract on the basis of a repudiation. Combined effect of the two clauses, as Devlin J stated in Evera S.A. Commercial v North Shipping Co. Ltd. (The North Anglia), [1956] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 367, was to impose an obligation on the owners to ensure that the vessel should start from:

… wherever she may happen to be, at a date when, by proceeding with reasonable dispatch, she will arrive at the port of loading by the expected date.

When the owners wish to make intermediate voyage or voyages between the date of charterparty and the date when the charter voyage is due to begin, then reasonable despatch obligation is operative throughout duration of this intermediate fixture or fixtures, with only limited protection from delays due to circumstances beyond their control.

"Unless there is some special provision in the charter-party the intermediate fixtures are made at the risk of the owners", per Neill LJ in The Baleares, [1993] 1 Lloyd’s Rep.215 at p.225

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