The loading and unloading of cargo from ships is a key element in the transport chain. However, ships are sometimes damaged during these operations. This raises the question of whether – and on what grounds – a terminal operator can be successfully held liable for such damage. A recent Rotterdam District Court decision upheld the standard of liability established in Dutch case law, confirming that the burden of proof lies with the shipowner when it comes to demonstrating terminal operator liability.
Ports in the Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp region are historically known as ship arrest paradises. However, there are developments in connection with conservatory measures which are less well known and that have not been extensively reported on. These developments concern securing evidence following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2013, which has served as a starting point for several cases.
Flying the Dutch flag has unfortunately become less popular with shipowners over the past 10 years. Although the exact reasons for this fall in popularity are unknown, the presumption that flying the Dutch flag is limited by the location of the vessel's owner may be a contributing factor. However, although on the face of it only European shipowners appear to be able to obtain a nationality certificate, the scope for flying the Dutch flag is actually much wider.
The Netherlands has long been considered one of the most favourable jurisdictions in which to arrest a ship. A recent Aruba Court ruling is set to enhance this reputation by further liberalising the procedural rules, removing the need for a bailiff to board a ship in order to execute an arrest. The decision is expected to play a role in ship arrest cases throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands where bad weather conditions, or even deliberate obstruction, may prevent bailiffs from boarding ships.
Digital platforms which connect logistics service providers with their customers have become commonplace. A relevant question from a legal perspective is whether such a platform acts as a carrier or freight forwarder. The answer to this question will affect a platform's civil and public law exposure. As such, platforms should consider their legal position carefully.
A recent Utrecht District Court decision sends a strong reminder to parties in the transport and logistics industry that they must be precise and clear about what they are agreeing to in dealings with their trading partners. While the less formal requirements for concluding an agreement under Dutch law seem to benefit the transport industry, this decision shows that there are pitfalls to be considered.
A recent decision by the Rotterdam Court regarding a major oil spill in the port of Rotterdam emphasises the importance of assessing at an early stage which liability regime applies when a party seeks to limit its exposure to claims in the event of an oil spill at sea. The court held that in procedures concerning limitation of liability, it is the responsibility of the party seeking to rely on limitation to provide all of the information available at an early stage.
The Supreme Court has reconfirmed the right to limit liability under Dutch law, even in personal injury cases. It held that limitation as such is not a violation of the human right to protection of property under the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that it is nationally and internationally considered necessary that the liability of the carrier is limited or may be limited in the event of a passenger's death or personal injury.
With two bills recently submitted to Parliament, the Netherlands is preparing to adopt the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea (the Rotterdam Rules) into Dutch law. This legislative effort is a clear sign of support in respect of the rules and will be appreciated by those convinced that the rules are the way forward for the carriage of goods in this age of e-commerce.
The Rotterdam District Court recently ruled that a tank storage provider could not invoke the exoneration clause of the General Conditions for Tank Storage in the Netherlands (the VOTOB conditions), which are frequently used by Dutch tank terminals and storage companies. The decision is relevant, as it appears to contravene the rather strict approach adopted in Dutch case law in relation to successfully setting aside a VOTOB exoneration clause.
The Dutch courts recently confirmed that a party which is arresting a vessel has no obligation to pay berth fees or any other associated costs during the period that the vessel remains under arrest. This decision is notable, as although it is in line with the traditional understanding, it is one of few decisions to have been issued on this matter in the Netherlands. It will also likely be regarded with interest in other jurisdictions, where different rules concerning the obligations of arresting parties apply.
The Supreme Court recently ruled on how to determine which claims under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 are paid out of the property fund and which are paid out of the wreck fund if a party has chosen to constitute both funds. The judgment is particularly relevant because the Netherlands recently issued a legislative proposal which aims to abolish the wreck fund and introduced unlimited liability for wreck and cargo removal claims.
On January 18 2018, despite severe weather warnings, numerous haulage companies allowed their trucks to take to the roads. As a result, many trucks were blown over, leading to extensive amounts of damage. However, any reliance by road carriers on force majeure for events arising from the storms will be hard to enforce in the Dutch courts. While it is not unthinkable that such a situation might exist, the numerous weather forecasts and code red warnings will have created a heavier burden for carriers.
The Utrecht Subdistrict Court recently held that fire damage to a yacht caused by an air conditioning panel did not result from product liability. The court clarified the definition of 'another object' under the Dutch Civil Code and the EU Product Liability Directive, holding that because the control panel was specifically designed for use in the vessel, it was considered part of the yacht. The decision provides guidance for yacht insurers and increases the possibility of successful recovery.
Many logistics service providers – such as terminals, warehouse keepers, freight forwarders and shipyards – use general terms and conditions in order to limit their risks. They often make use of several sets of standard terms and conditions, depending on the activities being carried out. However, a recent district court case should serve as a warning to these service providers of the severe risk that no standard terms will be regarded as validly incorporated.
The scope of Article 7 of the International Convention Relating to the Arrest of Seagoing Ships grants jurisdiction to a court granting leave for arrest to also hear the substantive claims. There has been ongoing debate over whether Article 7 also applies to vessels flying the flags of countries which are not signatories to the convention. Several recent decisions – the most recent of which came from Curacao – have reaffirmed that the article's application is not limited to vessels flying the flags of contracting states.
The Dutch Transport Law Association recently introduced a new standard form to be used for the constitution of a limitation fund in proceedings before the Dutch courts for the limitation of liability in seagoing or inland shipping. In the past, guarantees in limitation proceedings were offered on the basis of widely diverging texts, which often led to disagreement between the interested parties and the need for court rulings on the adequacy of the guarantee.
The Rotterdam District Court recently determined that a preliminary survey may qualify as a provisional measure within the meaning of the EU Brussels I Regulation if it is established that the measure aims to prevent evidence from being lost. In the case at hand, the court held that the survey did not qualify as such a measure, as the party making the request had indicated that the survey was aimed at obtaining access to witness statements and documents previously attached.
Over the years, the Dutch courts have demonstrated a willingness to adopt a clear and singular approach to the global limitation of liability issues arising from maritime casualties. In the process, the courts have become a forum of choice for several interests involved in worldwide shipping. The Hague Appeal Court recently added to the body of rulings in this respect.
Dutch case law regarding the interpretation of the Uniform Rules Concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail (CIM) is limited. By contrast, the Supreme Court has produced a rich body of case law on the interpretation of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR). The Rotterdam court recently held that two landmark Supreme Court rulings on liability under the CMR also apply to rail carriage liability under the CIM.