Common law obligation
When goods are in custody of the carrier his status is equal to one of a bailee at common law, who is entrusted with goods for reward. When shipowner acts as a common carrier (locatio operis faciendi), he "bound to answer for the goods at all events … but acts of God and the enemies of the king" (Coggs v Bernard (1703) 2 Ld Raym 909 per Holt CJ, see more at Common Carriers).
In other words carrier shall deliver the goods in the same condition as when he took them for transportation, notwithstanding whatever efforts it may require. But so far as such bailment be to a private person the carrier is responsible only for ordinary neglect of himself or of his servants. Moreover, the bailee has the burden of proving that he or his servants were not negligent. In Levison v Patent Steam Carpet Cleaning Co Ltd  3 All ER 498, per Lord Denning M.R. said at p.505:
[I]n a contract of bailment, when a bailee seeks to escape liability on the ground that he was not negligent or that he was excused by an exception or limitation clause, then he must show what happened to the goods. He must prove all the circumstances known to him in which the loss or damage occurred. If it appears that the goods were lost or damaged without any negligence on his part, then, of course, he is not liable. … But, if he leaves the cause of loss or damage undiscovered and unexplained, then I think he is liable: because it is then quite likely that the goods were stolen by one of his servants; or delivered by a servant to the wrong address; or damaged by reckless or wilful misconduct; all of which the offending servant will conceal and not make known to his employer.
By the end of the nineteenth century in line with development of the doctrines of marine deviation and seaworthiness the view was formed that cargo interests were suffering injustice from monopolist shipowners who by amending contracts of carriage with numerous exceptions nullified &the good old days" practice, defined in Coggs v Bernard , of almost absolute liability for loss or damage to cargo. Eventually it was acknowledged by both sides of conflict that this confrontation demanded for legislative solution.
Such solution was supposed to limit the carrier’s ability to exempt himself from liability for negligence in exercising some of core duties such as to provide a seaworthy vessel and to stow and care for the cargo. On the other hand new rules should have left the carrier with enough protection and be exempt from liability for everything which comes under the head of "accidents of navigation" even though the loss from these might be indirectly attributable to some fault or neglect of the crew. Thus the form of the proposed legislation was not to create any liability, but to prohibit the practice of contracting out of an existing common law liability, and so far as we are aware the decisions at Common Law are not regarded as having been unfair to the shipowner.
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