Page images


The responsibilities of the shipowner in connection with the loading, handling, and stowage of cargo, as summarized in Corpus Juris, volume 58 (The American Law Book Co., New York; 1932), which gives a statement of the law as embodied in and developed by all important decisions, are quoted below.


The carrier, in the absence of contractual or statutory exemption, is liable for an injury to cargo resulting from improper or negligent handling in loading. Since the loading of the cargo is a duty which the shipowner is bound to perform as a part of the contract of carriage, it is immaterial to the shipper whether the duty is performed through the general employees of the shipowner or through an independent contractor.


In general.-The carrier is liable for injury occasioned by defective stowage, in the absence of a contractual or statutory provision to the contrary, and bad stowage may constitute negligence precluding the carrier from relying on exceptions from liability contained in the bill of lading, but although badly stowed, if the carrier can show that damage to the goods must have happened anyhow, so that the bad stowing is not the proximate cause of the loss, he is not liable. It is not sufficient, however, to exonerate the carrier that the loss might have otherwise occurred. The law imposes upon the carrier the duty of using due care to ascertain and consider the nature and characteristics of goods offered for shipment and to exercise due care in their handling, and further, the carrier is charged with notice of any patent defect in the goods. A carrier who accepts goods of a nature which require special care in their stowage must exercise such care. Further, where the season of shipment increases the danger, increased caution in stowage is required, and when the voyage is one on which severe and stormy weather is to be anticipated, care in securing the cargo against shifting under stress of weather is required. A custom of stowing cargo in a particular part of a vessel will not justify stowing more cargo there than all of the conditions in relation to the physical surroundings warrant.

Held not to constitute bad or negligent stowage.-(1) Cargo of oil in bridge deck space. (2) Caustic soda in iron drums with iron cotton ties. (3) Cocoanut between decks, over dry cargo in the hold, provided the decks are permanently laid, in thorough order, well calked and tight, and provided with sufficient scuppers for the escape of leaking oil. (4) Hides beneath sugar stowed on a perfectly tight iron between decks. (5) Oil in casks on the main deck of a steam propeller, bulwarked entirely around and covered by the upper deck, and constructed specially for the purpose of carrying cargo, so that the cargo placed there is as completely protected from the weather and from storms as if it were in the hold. (6) Quebracho extract between decks from Buenos Aires to Boston held not negligent. (7) Sugar in bags. (8) Glycerin in drums between decks. (9) Under the stringer of an iron ship, in the between decks, is a proper place for the stowage of skins when so dunnaged as to be fully protected from the moisture on the sides of the ship. Held to constitute bad or negligent stowage.—(1) Barrels of olives stowed so that bungs were not upright. (2) Cabbages in the between decks of a steamship, injured by heat from steam pipes. (3) Cocoanut oil stowed in single-riveted slack tank. (4) Crated onions not blocked to prevent shifting. (5) Crated onions not properly shored. (6) Piling barrels of olives bilge and bilge, when they should have been turned bilge and cantline. (7) Placing cargo of such weight on top of casks of olives as to flatten the staves of some, causing the brine to leak out. (8) Fish meal stowed in lower hold without ventilation. (9) Placing malt in same cargo space with drums of kerosene oil. (10) Stowing cargo of oil in cross-bunker, separated from fire room by steel bulkhead. (11) Stowing of shellac, which is easily stained, in a compartment which had recently contained coal, and from which the coal dust

had been removed by sweeping only, without washing. (12) Wet rags in same compartment with rabbitskins.

Cargo stowed by stevedore. The ship and its owners are exempt from liability for damages resulting from bad stowage performed by stevedores selected by the owner of the cargo, even if paid by the carrier; but this rule does not exempt ship and its owners from liability for a failure in their duty as a carrier after the stowage has been performed, nor does the mere right upon the part of the cargo owner to select the stevedore exempt the ship from liability for bad stowage where the master is not deprived of his authority to control the loading and to insist upon stowage satisfactory to him; so. although the stevedore is appointed by the shipper, if the contract of f freightment provides that the master shall direct the stevedore and the carrier be liable for the stowage, the carrier will be responsible for improper stowage. As the master designates the place within the ship where each kind of cargo is to go, when such place is improper the ship is liable for consequent damages to the cargo, although it was stowed by another stevedore. Where goods are stowed in the customary way, and according to the best judgment of experienced stevedores, the fact that if they had been stowed differently the injury sustained might have been avoided does not make the carrier liable, as he is not required to take such extraordinary precautions.

Degree of care required.-A ship is bound to the exercise of reasonable care and skill only in the stowage of cargo, and to render her liable for damage to cargo on the ground that she was unseaworthy by reason of improper stowage, it must be shown that the manner of stowage was such as would not have been approved at the time by a stevedore or master of ordinary skill and judgment, knowing the voyage to be made and the weather and sea conditions which the vessel might reasonably be expected to encounter. (The Musselcrag, 125 Fed. 786.)

Injury to cargo from other cargo.-Different parts of the cargo must be so stowed as not unnecessarily to injure one another; and a vessel is liable for damages caused to goods of one shipper by those of another, although the goods are stowed in the usual way, if the injury is caused by the goods of the third party being in bad condition when put on board, or of such a nature as naturally to cause damage; and where the vessel carries different kinds of cargo, which are liable to damage each other, special care must be taken that they be so stowed that damage shall not result, and with as much skill as a competent stevedore could show; and where the different parts of the cargo are such as are very probable to injure each other, the carrier is liable, although they be well stowed, if injury result, without proof of any wilful or negligent default on his part; but the carrier is not responsible for injury necessarily resulting to the goods of one shipper, from their being carried in the same vessel with the goods of other shippers, which, by usage, are a proper part of the same general cargo, unless such injury could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable skill and attention on the part of the persons employed in the conveyance of the goods.

Stowage on deck.-The owner of a vessel is not liable for the loss by sea perils of goods loaded on the deck with the consent of the shipper when no culpable neglect or misconduct is attributed to him in their destruction or jettison. However, where goods are shipped under a clean bill of lading the presumption in that the goods are to be put under deck, there being no positive agreement to the contrary, or circumstances from which it might be inferred; and stowage on deck without consent of the shipper renders the carrier liable for loss resulting therefrom, even as against damages of the sea, and notwithstanding exceptions in the bill of lading, unless they would have been equally fatal if the goods had been under deck; but as silence in a bill of lading as to stowage is not an express contract upon that point, the shipowner may prove an agreement to carry on deck, where a claim for loss is made, or usage to that effect; and a shipper who agrees that his goods shall be carried on deck, and assents to the manner of stowing and protecting them, cannot recover for an injury through natural causes where all reasonable care was taken of them during the voyage.

A vessel is not liable for loss or damage to a cargo by reason of its having been stowed on deck, if it must have been contemplated from the nature of the cargo that it should be so stowed; but even though a cargo was of such character as to be properly stowed on the deck, the vessel is liable for damages caused by its being insufficiently secured, or covered, or because of the improper loading of the vessel, or for an unnecessary jettison.

Taking a full price for stowing on deck will subject the owner of the vessel to damages, if the freight placed on deck is thereby lost or damaged; but any inference that the cargo may be carried on deck, implied by a reference in the contract to the capacity of the vessel, is repelled by the fact that the shipper refused to insert leave to carry on deck in the bills of lading proposed to be signed, and paid under deck freight; and a shipper who sees goods deckstowed without objection cannot claim damages for injury to them occurring without fault of the carrier.

Dunnage. Lack of sufficient dunnage to protect cargo is bad stowage, for which the vessel is liable, and a ship must be dunnaged so as to protect the cargo even in rough weather, if the vessel springs no serious leak; but if the vessel has met with extraordinary sea peril upon proof of usual good dunnage the carrier will not be liable.


According to a ruling handed down by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals (2d Judicial Circuit) in March 1940, neither a vessel nor its operator can be held liable if goods offered for shipment are not cased or wrapped in a manner to withstand the ordinary hazards of an ocean voyage, always providing that such cargo has been stowed with usual care in accordance with the prevailing practice. The suit was prosecuted as a test case to determine the degree of liability arising in similar cases.

The suit involved two shipments, totaling 269 bales of ribbed smoked sheet rubber from Banjermasin, Borneo, transshipped at Sourabaya, Java, and delivered at New York in July 1937. The plaintiffs charged receipt of the rubber "seriously damaged and impaired in value by being crushed, dented, and misshapen." Improper stowage of the baled rubber in tiers was claimed by the plaintiffs to have caused the crushing and imbedding of metal bands into the material. The denting and misshaping of 229 bales reduced the value by one-fourth cent per pound, it was argued, although the quality of the rubber was not impaired.

On behalf of the plaintiffs, the crushing was admitted, but the testimony of experts was offered in the lower court to establish that the rubber was stowed in the usual manner. It was brought out that the slicing machines for handling the bales are capable of adjustment to handle various sizes and shapes. It was established also that until recent years crude rubber was shipped in cases, but since the decline in market price, shippers have resorted to the cheaper method of using metal bands, covered with burlap, to hold the compressed rubber.

In writing the Appellate Court's affirmative opinion, Judge Learned Hand stated:

In the carriage of goods the trade must always come to some accommodation between ideal perfection of stowage and entire disregard of the safety of the goods; when it has done so, that becomes the standard for that kind of goods. Ordinarily it will not certainly prevent any damage, and both sides know that the goods will be somewhat exposed; but if the shipper wishes more, he must provide for it particularly.

After noting that standards usually are written into shipping contracts and that the shipper, in the case at issue, did not seek to avoid loss by casing instead of baling, Judge Hand found it was not proved that handling of the consignment was careless. The damages arose from insufficiently covering plastic goods which cannot be conveniently stowed in any other way than as the trade stows.


The methods employed in receiving and handling cargo at the ocean terminal are of the utmost importance to the ocean steamship operator and, under normal conditions, may play a large part in determining whether or not his ships operate at a profit. To the shipper, the handling of cargo on the dock and during the loading and stowing operations is also of importance. If the dock force is well trained and the equipment used in transferring goods on the dock is of the proper kind, there is less likelihood of damage occurring during this stage of the export voyage.

In this section, the term "dock force" will be used to include all the workers involved in the receiving, loading, and stowing of a vessel, and should be understood in that manner. The dock force will under this definition include the port captain or dock superintendent and his staff of receiving clerks, checking clerks, the stevedoring organization, and also the master and officers of the vessel.

In actual practice, these groups usually work in close cooperation in connection with all loading and stowing operations, though there are some differences as between different trades. In some North Atlantic services, for example, the loading is often very simple, the ship taking cargo at only one port and discharging at one port, although in many instances in this trade there are three or four loading ports and an even larger number of discharging ports. In this trade the second officer, who is usually the cargo officer, works with the dock superintendent and the chief stevedore, and these three are sufficient to oversee the work, keep track of the location of cargo in the ship, and so on.

In other trades, such as those to the Far East, Central America, West Indies, West Africa, and east and west coasts of South America, the vessel may frequently call at from 6 to 18 ports, and will load and discharge cargo at every port. In such trades it is necessary to plan and watch the stowage with the utmost care, so that conditions at every port of call will permit the rapid discharge of cargo for that port and loading of cargo that is to be taken on board, without blocking off other cargo or interfering with the stability of the ship. Usually, in these trades, the loading is done under the close supervision of the master and the ship's officers, as they are the individuals who will be responsible for the quick dispatch of the ship at each port on its itinerary, and, as a consequence, must have an exact knowledge of where and how each and every consignment is stowed.

The efficiency of the dock force, including the stevedoring organization and the ship's officers, and the care with which their work is planned and carried out, determines in large measure the number of days and hours a ship remains in port discharging inbound cargo and loading outward cargo. For successful operation the ship's time in port, or its turn-around, must be as brief as possible. This is partly because all the major items of expense, with the single important exception of fuel, continue day in and day out whether the ship is at sea or in port. The crew's wages, the officers' salaries, and subsistence for the ship's company represent major operating expenses that must be paid for every day. Other items of expense while the ship is in port include the fuel required to operate the winches, dynamos, and other machinery on board, and to keep the ship heated in winter.

In addition, the overhead charges of insurance, interest on capital, and depreciation ordinarily amount to a considerable sum per day. Each day unnecessarily spent in port means, therefore, an outlay of money with no compensating income from freight moneys. The earning capacity of a ship depends largely on the rapidity of its turnaround or the number of voyages it can make in a year, and the turn-around can be increased to a large extent only by preventing delay in port.

In view of the above, the importance of the work done by the dock force may be adequately realized. If the work of the dock force is intelligently planned and efficiently executed, the ship's stay in port is reduced to the minimum possible number of days and hours, and the number of days during which the ship can be on the move carrying paying cargo is correspondingly increased. It has been said, and with a considerable measure of truth, that there is no single point in the entire field of ship operation where efficiency of organization and management is so important in spelling profit or loss as in the work of the dock force in receiving, handling, loading, and stowing the company's ships.

In addition to handling cargo intelligently and rapidly so as to eliminate all unnecessary delays in discharging and loading, the dock force must be trained to handle cargo skillfully and with care so it will not be damaged during the time it is on the dock or during transfer to the vessel alongside. Damage claims payable by the shipowner or operator owing to negligence on the part of his em ployees can amount to large sums during the course of a year. In addition, a steamship line which is known to have an inordinate amount of damaged cargo is hurt by this fact and may lose business because of it.

In this connection it might be added that careful handling of cargo on the part of American ship operators can do a very great deal toward winning favor for American-flag ocean-going vessels. In the past there have been many complaints concerning alleged carelessness in handling and stowing cargo by ship operators. Some of these complaints have been unwarranted; but others have doubtless been justified. Study of the amount of damage done to cargo and development of methods by which such damage may be reduced are matters that might well be given the most careful consideration. A number of the American steamship companies have already carried out noteworthy studies of this nature and have produced extremely worthwhile results. It should also be added that damage to cargo during handling on the dock and loading aboard ship is not an occurrence confined solely to American steamship lines. Foreign-owned companies experience the same trials and tribulations in this phase of their operations.


In most United States ports the pier type of ocean terminal predominates. This is a structure projected into the water at a right angle to the shore line. Berthing places that are technically known as docks or wharves, which are structures built along the shore line, are not so common in the United States as in many foreign ports, although well-appointed wharves are found in a number of United States ports, for example, New Orleans, Savannah, and Portland, Oreg. Insofar

« PreviousContinue »