Voyage Charters. Responsibility for stowage Last updated 30-Jun-2015

It is, apart from special provisions or circumstances, part of the ship's duty to stow the goods properly, not only in the interests of the seaworthiness of the vessel, but in order to avoid damage to the goods, … the work of stowage is generally deputed to stevedores, but that does not generally relieve the shipowners of their duty, even though the stevedores are under the charterparty to be appointed by the charterers, unless there are special provisions which either expressly or inferentially have that effect.
Per Lord Wright in Court Line v Canadian Transport [1940] A.C. 934, at p.943.

FIOST - free in and out stowed and trimmed

Unless parties agree otherwise, by way of express provision in the contract of carriage, duty to stow the goods properly, prima facie rested on shipowners.

This duty can be transferred to the cargo interests by inclusion for example FIOST clause ("free in and out stowed and trimmed"). In such case the master is still responsible for the loading and stowage of the goods because improper stowage affects safety of the vessel. But only words "free in and out stowed and trimmed" are not sufficient to transfer responsibility for and risk of loading to the charterer, because the word "free", in phrase "free in stowed", means that the services performed were only free of cost to the shipowner but not free of risk.

FIOST terms do not, without more, transfer responsibility for performance of the operations, as opposed to payment for them, to the charterers . To transfer risk FIOST wording should be followed or supplemented by agreement to transfer responsibility for stowage to cargo interests, the House of Lords decision in The Jordan II [2003] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 319. Such agreement, for example, can be express in the following words:

The cargo shall be brought into the holds, loaded, stowed and/or trimmed, tallied, lashed and/or secured by the charterers, free of any risk, liability and expense whatsoever to the owners.

Lashing certificate signed by chief mate

If liability for stowage was transferred by mutual agreement to the charterer or shipper, master cannot be considered as accepted responsibility for stowage by virtue of signed by his chief officer certificate approving the loading and stowage. Master and chief usually rely entirely on the assurances and representations given to them by stevedores, who generally represent and promote themselves out as experts in stowing and securing cargo, as the main element of their business.

Liability for stowage and extra-costs for re-stowage and deviation to port of refuge

Side that is responsible for stowage will have to bear costs of re-stowage and expenses related to deviation to port of refuge, even if there was no particularly or exceptionally bad weather. Any cargo stowed on board and bound for a distant port of discharge with the likelihood of meeting adverse weather had to be made capable of surviving an ocean voyage without additional re-stowage. General rule is, that when parties to the contract of transportation of goods by sea come to agreement, this agreement should anticipate that vessel is expected to meet adverse weather conditions. Thus, that side who is responsible for stowage should stow the goods accordingly, i.e. to be able to withstand ordinary expected weather conditions. Crucial point here is to realise what both parties anticipate at the moment they sign contract with regard to conditions supposed to happen during sea passage. If for example, they anticipated North Atlantic crossing in the winter season, it is understood that they also should have agreed on the best possible way to stow and secure cargo for assumingly very bad weather at sea. If, on the other hand, more or less mild conditions anticipated on her passage, then the parties would appear to agree on less extensive and expensive lashing or stowage.

Therefore side which is responsible for stowage would also be responsible for expenses related to re-stowage of the goods.

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