Seaworthiness Warranty of seaworthiness is not continuous under the common law

‘The warranty of seaworthiness, therefore, must be construed by reference to the reasonably possible standard applicable to such a vessel on such a voyage, and the voyage, for this purpose, must be looked upon as divided into stages, with the necessary incident that the warranty must be adjusted accordingly.
It follows that the warranty must cover a condition that the vessel shall at the commencement of each stage be in this respect seaworthy for that stage.’
The Vortigern [1899] P 140 per Henn Collins LJ

Common law doctrine of stages

It is well to emphasize that an absolute obligation of the carrier of goods by sea to provide a seaworthy ship is not continuous under common law. It requires, for example, that the ship must be fit to receive her cargo at the commencement of loading only as a ship for the ordinary perils of lying afloat in harbour and need not be fit for sailing. Then on the completion of each stage she must have the degree of fitness which is required for the next stage.

For example in Reed (A E) & Co v Page, Son & East Ltd [1927] 1 KB 743 barge the Jellicoe, had a carrying capacity of 170 tons was seaworthy when the loading commenced, but at the end of loading 190 tons were put on board, and after the loading was finished and while she was remaining alongside the steamer waiting for a tug to tow her she sank, and her cargo was lost. The court held when the loading of the Jellicoe was finished a new stage of adventure commenced, and as at that stage the Jellicoe was, due to her over-loaded state, unseaworthy for this new stage of the employment.

The reason for the vessel to be seaworthy at a particular time only was elaborately stated by in McFadden v Blue Star Line [1905] 1 KB 697 by Channell J at pp.703-5:

… the warranty of seaworthiness in the ordinary sense of that term, the warranty, that is, that the ship is fit to encounter the ordinary perils of the voyage, is a warranty only as to the condition of the vessel at a particular time, namely, the time of sailing; it is not a continuing warranty, in the sense warranty that she shall continue fit during the voyage. If anything happens whereby the goods are damaged during the voyage, the shipowner is liable because he is an insurer except in the event of the damage happening from some cause in respect of which he is protected by exceptions in his bill of lading. His liability for anything happening after the ship has sailed depends, not upon there being a breach of a warranty that the ship shall continue fit, but upon his position as carrier. So, too, it is clear that the warranty of the ship being fit to encounter the perils of the voyage does not attach before she sails and while she is still loading her cargo. There is, of course, no warranty at the time the goods are put on board that the ship is then ready to start on her voyage; for while she is still loading there may be many things requiring to be done before she is ready to sail. The ordinary warranty of seaworthiness, then, does not take effect before the ship is ready to sail, nor does it continue to take effect after she has sailed: it takes effect at the time of sailing, and at the time of sailing alone…

When a voyage is in stages the warranty is that the ship on starting on each particular stage is fit for that stage. Thus, if she is going to stop at an intermediate port, she must have sufficient coals to take her to that port, but she is not bound to have sufficient coals to take her the whole voyage. It is treated as a separate warranty for each stage of the voyage. I think one must apply exactly the same rule to the loading stage of a vessel whilst she remains in her port of loading. I think the warranty is that at the time the goods are put on board she is fit to receive them and to encounter the ordinary perils that are likely to arise during the loading stage; but that there is no continuing warranty after the good are once on board that the ship shall continue fit to hold the goods during that stage and until she is ready to go to sea, notwithstanding any accident that may happen to her in the meantime. And the reason for so holding is precisely the same as that which exists with respect to the warranty of fitness to encounter the perils of the voyage; as soon as the goods are on board they are in the custody of the carrier, and he is liable for any accident which then happens because he is an insurer of them unless he is protected by some clause in his bill of lading.

Thus absolute common law undertaking of seaworthiness is not continues one but applies at the beginning of each separate stage of voyage, while stages are marked either by the completion of a particular operation, e.g. loading, or by changes in the nature of the operation to be performed, e.g. river transit or ocean transit. Lord Penzance held in Quebec Marine Insurance Co v Commercial Bank of Canada (1870) LR 3 PC 234 at p.241:

… there is seaworthiness for the port, seaworthiness in some cases for the river, and seaworthiness in some cases, as in a case that has been put forward, of a whaling voyage, for some definite, well-recognised, and distinctly separate stage of the voyage. This principle has been sanctioned by various decisions, but it has been equally well decided that a vessel, in cases where these several distinct stages of navigation involve the necessity of a different equipment or state of seaworthiness, must be properly equipped and in all respects seaworthy for each of these stages of the voyage, respectively, at the time she enters upon each stage; otherwise the warranty of seaworthiness has not been complied with. It was argued that the obligation thus cast upon the assured to procure and provide a proper condition of equipment of the vessel to encounter the perils of each stage of the voyage necessarily involves the idea that between one stage of the voyage and another be should be allowed an opportunity to find and provide that further equipment which the subsequent stage of the voyage requires, and no doubt that is so.

Bunker was held to be a part of the equipment of a steamship, insufficiency of which on one of the voyage stages will render ship unseaworthy.

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