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COVID-19: What are the implications for shipping disputes?

Posted on: 6 April 2020

In an article by John Russell QC, Ben Gardner and Tom Bird of Quadrant Chambers consider some of the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic in the shipping context, with a particular focus on force majeure issues.

Quarantines, Coronavirus and Charterparties

The practice of quarantine can be traced back to medieval Venice. The then prosperous maritime republic was a gateway for the bubonic plague’s path into Europe. Vessels arriving there from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days (quaranta giorni), which later came to be known as quarantine.

A traditional Venetian quarantine would be most unlikely to amount to a frustrating event in the charterparty context. A delay of just 40 days would seldom render the performance of a charterparty impossible or radically different from anything contemplated by the parties. Such a quarantine might render performance more expensive or more onerous, but that will not suffice for the purpose of frustration.

There must, as the Court of Appeal put it in The “Sea Angel”, be a “break in identity between the contract as provided for and contemplated and its performance in the new circumstances”. The doctrine operates within narrow confines.

But the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic and the measures introduced to prevent and delay its spread will doubtless lead parties to invoke exceptions, force majeure provisions and, if all else fails, the doctrine of frustration.

Use this link to read further.

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