Shipbroker Pays the Price
International Transport Intermediaries Club (ITIC) has emphasised the potentially costly consequences of a failure on the part of shipping intermediaries to confirm in writing any initiatives performed on behalf of their principals.
In the latest issue of its Claims Review, ITIC says it has seen an increasing number of claims on its shipbroking members relating to the receipt and forwarding of messages. Emphasising the importance of accurate record-keeping and the need to reconfirm telephone conversations in writing, it reports how the failure of a shipbroker to provide written confirmation of the appointment of an arbitrator in a dispute between its principal, a charterer, and a shipowner, exposed the broker to a claim and costs in excess of $200,000 at a court-ordered mediation in the United States.
The shipbroker found itself in the middle of a dispute between the owners and charterers involving a demurrage claim in excess of $400,000. The charterers failed to settle and the owners initiated arbitration in London. As the charterers failed to nominate their arbitrator, the owners nominated a sole arbitrator. Despite orders from the sole arbitrator to serve defence submissions, no communication was received from the charterers. The arbitrator subsequently awarded owners the full amount of the demurrage claim plus interest and costs - a total of $575,000.
The owners tried to collect the award against the charterers through the US courts. The charterer’s defence was that they had never been advised of the arbitration proceedings and therefore had not had an opportunity to appoint an arbitrator. The charterers also alleged that the shipbroker had failed to inform them about the arbitration, and brought the broker into the US action.
The broker confirmed that it had advised the charterer by telephone about the appointment of an arbitrator, and again when arbitration proceedings had started. But it had failed to confirm this by email and the charterer, well aware of the lack of written confirmation, simply denied that such telephone conversations had taken place.
ITIC notes that, if the court had found the broker to be an ‘agent’ of the charterer, it could have been argued that the service of notices regarding arbitration proceedings on the broker could be deemed to be service on the charterers, with the result that the arbitration award was enforceable against the charterers, who in turn may have pursued the broker for the full value of the award.
The case was concluded at a court-ordered mediation by means of a payment to the owners of $450,000. The broker contributed $75,000 to the settlement, and the legal costs of defending the broker were in excess of $140,000 – a total of $215,000.
“This was a high price to pay,” says ITIC, “for a simple failure to follow up a telephone conversation with an emailed confirmation.”