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"Shipped in apparent good order and condition" - apparent to whom?

A bill of lading will generally state that the cargo has been "shipped in apparent good order and condition". But apparent to whom – Master or shipper? The question was up for appeal in The Tai Prize [2021].

Vessel loaded cargo of soya beans. B/L was drafted by shippers and signed by agents of the owners on Master's behalf. It stated that cargo was shipped in apparent good order and condition. At discharge port heat damage was noticed. Reason was that it was loaded with an excessive moisture content. Pre-existing heat damage was not reasonably visible to the master during loading, but shippers would have been able to discover. Owners were looking to recover from charterers part of what had been paid to the receivers to settle the cargo claim. Owners had lost in lower court and were now appealing.

The court said that the statement referred to the external condition of the cargo at the time of shipment, not pre-shipment, and refers to the condition that was apparent to the Master. It is the Master’s and crew’s eyes that count. There was no question of implied indemnity here as the B/L was accurate & did not misdescribe the cargo.

The court accepted that it was not a fair decision for owners but any other outcome would run contrary to the scheme of Hague rules.

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