Volcafe Ltd and others v Compania Sud Americana de Vapores SA  EWCA Civ 1103
Bagged coffee beans, carried in lined, non-ventilated containers, suffered condensation damage. Carriage was on LCL/FCL (less than container load/full container load) terms which means the carrier was responsible for preparing and stuffing the containers. The bills of lading incorporated the Hague Rules and recorded shipment in apparent good order and condition.
The claim against the carrier was for negligence and/or failure properly and carefully to load , handle, stow, carry, keep, care for and discharge the cargoes in breach of article III rule 2 of the Hague Rules. The carrier raised the Article IV rule 2(m) inherent vice defence, alternatively that damage was inevitable.
It was common ground between both parties that:
The Court of Appeal Judgement
The Hague Rules applied
Burden of Proof in respect of an action under the Hague (or Hague-Visby) Rules
Inherent vice and/or inevitability of damage
The carrier had a sustainable defence of inherent vice under Article IV Rule 2(m). The judge should then have gone on to consider if this defence was negated by the carrier’s failure to implement a “sound system”. In addition, the carrier’s alternative defence that the damage to the cargo was inevitable should have been upheld.
The carrier is not obliged to ensure that the cargo is delivered without any damage, but rather to ensure that reasonable care is taken in accordance with general industry practice. If shippers wish to impose a higher standard of care than general practice, they should pay the premium for using ventilated containers.
The Club thinks this case is particularly helpful in clarifying the respective parties’ burdens of proof when an inherent vice defence is raised, and in explaining that a carrier’s obligation to employ a sound system does not mean that he has to employ a system which would absolutely prevent damage.