Harter Act 1893. The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed some governments; especially those where there were more shippers than shipowners, introduce legislation which prevented carriers of goods under bills of lading from excluding all their liability.
In the United States, the Harter Act 1893 was the most prominent. It is still in force, despite being superseded in some parts by the U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936 which formally implemented the Hague Rules 1924. In fact, the Hague Rules were an imitation of many of the Harter Act provisions. The U.S. COGSA applies only from loading to discharge. Therefore the Harter Act provisions are still effective before loading and after discharging of the goods. They also apply to coastal trade within the United States.
The main purposes of the Harter Act included a prohibition of shipowners’ liability exclusion clauses for consequences of”… negligence, fault or failure in proper loading, stowage, custody, care or proper delivery . . .”of goods in the charge of the shipowner. Liability exclusion words were null and void. The shipowner was also not permitted to insert any clause in a bill of lading that responsibility to exercise due diligence, properly man, equip and supply the ship and to make the ship seaworthy would be reduced or avoided.
The negligence or exception clause in the Act is conditional. It does not relieve the shipowner from liability unless he exercised due diligence to make the ship seaworthy in all respects. The Act also excepted shipowners from liability for errors in navigation and management of the ship. The contents of bills of lading were laid down and penalties and liens were established.