Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971 (COGSA)

Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971 (COGSA). This is the name given to the legislation enacted in the United Kingdom. The Act implements the Hague-Visby Rules with some differences, especially related to the application of the Rules.

The differences and some important provisions of the Act will be referred to below. For the text of the Act, see Appendix IX. The Act did not come into force until 1977. The 1971 Act replaced the U.K. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1924 which had implemented the earlier Hague Rules.

The Act was amended by the U.K. Merchant Shipping Act 1979 to recognise that Art: VIII of the Hague-Visby Rules was subject to the system of Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, established by an International Convention of 1976.

The Act was also amended in 1981 to take into account an agreement signed in Brussels in 1979 allowing the “Units of account” for limitation of liability of the carrier to be in SDRs (“Special Drawing Rights of the International Monetary Fund”) rather than in gold francs. Not all countries have agreed to the change in the unit account.

Article X in the Hague-Visby Rules applies to carriage between ports in different states. This can mean that the Rules do not apply to domestic carriage between ports in the same state. The U.K. COGSA extends the application of the Rules to carriage from any United Kingdom port whether or not the carriage is between ports in two different states. This applies to outward shipments from a U.K. port and can also cover carriage between U.K. ports. Because the Rules have the force of law in the U.K. the courts must apply them according to the Act and also Article X. Therefore if a bill of lading states that a dispute over carriage outward from a U.K. port should be heard in a country which applies the Hague Rules, which provide for lower liability, but the dispute comes before a U.K. court, the court will apply the Hague-Visby Rules.

The Rules apply to contracts that are contained in bills of lading and are evidence of the contract of carriage. The Act also applies to these but recognises that not all carriage is under a negotiable bill of lading. The Act allows application to a receipt, which is a non-negotiable document, marked as such and which contains a “Paramount clause” providing the Rules govern the contract as if the receipt was a bill of lading. This takes into account the possibility of using “waybills” but these will not be treated as conclusive evidence of the shipment of the goods as described therein in the hands of a third party, consignee or endorsee. (This is provided by Art. III, r. 4 of the Rules.)

Yet another variation from the Hague-Visby Rules is in the definition of “goods”. The Rules exclude live animals and cargo stated as being carried on deck and so carried The Act includes this cargo as “goods”.

One important provision of the Act is contained in section 3. This removes from the carrier the common law absolute “implied obligation” to provide a seaworthy ship.


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Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1936