Cargo-Nature and condition. If the nature of cargo is unusual the statement in the bill of lading should not be a very detailed description of the cargo without an attached certificate from an independent body, such as a surveyor or laboratory, to ensure that the-cargo matches the description.
The buyer may have purchased goods of a certain description. It is outside the expertise of the normal shipmaster or port agent to ascertain if the goods match the description in the contract of sale.
On delivery, the goods may be rejected if there is no match and the carrier may fail to obtain any freight. Moreover, if the goods as loaded are not as described, any words of such description should be deleted by the person who signs and issues the bill of lading. For example, in the case of liquefied petroleum gas cargoes, if the bill of lading, prepared by the shipper, states that the gas is “fully refrigerated” this may be incorrect if the nature of “fully” is not identified by a laboratory certificate and check-temperatures.
Difficulties can arise if the bill of lading acknowledges receipt of a container “said to contain” certain cargo. If the cargo is received by the carrier at a “container freight station” and the carrier “stuffs” or “vans” the container, the carrier will be responsible for the description on the bill of lading of the contents of the container. However, if the carrier receives a container packed by the shipper or by consolidators or freight forwarders there can be no presumption that the contents of the container match the description inserted by the shipper into the bill of lading, especially if the container is “sealed by the shipper”, the insertion of such a clause in a bill of lading assisting the shipowner from claims by third party bill of lading holders. However, qualified bills of lading may lead to delay for the shipper and may be unacceptable by him. In situations such as these, it may be better to omit any unverifiable detail as the only way for a earner to avoid prima facie liability to consignees or endorsees if the detailed description of the cargo is not accurate.
If cargo is definitely not as described in the bill of lading, the master or owner’s agent may refuse to sign and issue the bill. The master or person representing the shipowner during the loading operation should inspect the cargo before loading and verify its condition before issuing an unqualified or “clean bill of lading”. If the master is required, under the terms of a charterparty, to sign bills of lading as presented, he still has the duty to inspect the cargo and verify its condition. In The Nogar Marine, 1983, the master signed unqualified mate’s receipts presented by the charterers or their agents. The cargo of iron rods was partially rusty and the master had inspected the cargo before loading. The mate’s receipts were exchanged for clean bills of lading signed by the vessel’s agents on behalf of the master. The owners became liable to the eventual holders of the bills of lading.
In the Hague-Visby Rules, while Art. III, r. 3 requires the carrier to issue, on demand of the shipper, a bill of lading showing certain information, the carrier is not obliged to issue a bill of lading showing “. . . any marks, number, quantity or weight which he has reasonable grounds for suspecting not accurately to represent the goods actually received, or which he has had no reasonable means of checking”. Under Art. III, r. 5, the shipper is “ . . . deemed to have guaranteed to the carrier the accuracy at the time of shipment of the marks, number, quantity and weight, as furnished by him . . .”. Therefore it seems that the carrier’s protection does not relate to order and condition of the goods. This must be checked before loading and an appropriate clause inserted into the bill of lading.
A clause in a bill of lading stating “Quality, condition and measure unknown” will be of little effect for a carrier to counteract a cargo claim if the bill contains a printed statement of the “good order and condition of the goods” because the statement in the bill of lading raises a presumption that the goods were actually received as described. The presumption is rebuttable if the bill of lading is in the hands. of the original shipper but is conclusive evidence in the hands of a third party acting in good faith. (Hague- Visby Rules, Art. III, r. 4.)
Unless the bill of lading is claused or qualified, the goods are considered to be received in “apparent good order and condition”. Without a clause expressly declaring the defective condition of the goods and/or packaging, the bill of lading is a “clean bill of lading”. Without any statements on the bill of lading as to order and condition of the goods, there is no evidence of the condition when the cargo was loaded or received for shipment. If the bill of lading is signed for goods “shipped in apparent good order and condition”, and the goods are foodstuffs or other perishables, the nature of the goods should be such as to permit the cargo to withstand the risks of being damaged during the voyage.
In Dent v. Glen Line, 1940, a bagged cargo of groundnuts was delivered to the vessel. The bags appeared to be externally dry. Some nuts were observed to be in a “green and moist” condition. The mate’s receipts were claused accordingly. The vessel’s agents issued unclaused, clean bills of lading in exchange for a letter of indemnity from the shipper. On discharge the cargo was found to be in a deteriorated condition. The consignee alleged fraud by the agents and made a cargo claim on the owner. It was decided that although the bags appeared to be externally dry on visual inspection, the agents would have observed that the nuts were green and moist. Therefore the statement of “apparent good order and condition” was. false. Even if the goods show no signs of external injury, the condition of the goods must also be considered from the point of view of safe carriage. If the goods are likely to be damaged by condensation, “sweat” and overheating, they cannot be in good order and condition for me contemplated voyage. The carrier was found liable to the consignees.