It has long been the practice for surveyors acting for cargo receivers or underwriters to attend onboard vessels and request facilities for taking photographs. Members attention is often drawn to the Hague Rules, Article 3 (6) which reads:
“… In the case of any actual or apprehended loss or damage, the carrier and the receiver shall give all reasonable facilities to each other for inspecting and tallying the goods.”
Photographs are usually a reasonable form of evidence. Therefore, claimants’ request to take photographs cannot normally be denied. However photographs can be inclined and indeed, often intended to provide a false picture of the overall state of cargo.
This may be achieved by taking only selected views designed to support a claimant’s case and give the impression that the whole/majority of the cargo was damaged to the same extent as the cargo actually photographed.
Clearly, no such facilities should be granted to any persons acting on behalf of cargo interests unless and until there is present a surveyor acting on behalf of the ship. On some occasions it may be necessary for the ship to employ a professional photographer in order to combat the possible distortions of claimants’ photographic evidence.
Since about 1996, digital cameras have regularly been used by surveyors, some ships’ officers and other interested parties. Digital cameras continue to improve and the achieved quality of the photographs can be equal to the traditional SLR camera.
When using digital cameras taking selective views of a subject cargo is no longer necessary as most – if not all – digital cameras are supplied with photo-editing programmes which permit manipulation and possible falsification of the picture(s).
Whereas digitally reproduced photographs may be acceptable when electronically transmitted to provide essential, initial and urgent details of damages many clients refuse to accept them as part of a formal and final report.
Until English Courts accept photographic evidence reproduced digitally the use of digital photography, at least for the time being, should be used for urgent advices only and not in the preparation of formal evidence suitable for litigation.