Riverstone Meat Company Pty. Ltd v Lancashire Shipping Company Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeViscount Simonds,Lord Merriman,Lord Radcliffe,Lord Keith of Avonholm,Lord Hodson
Judgment Date07 February 1961
Judgment citation (vLex)[1961] UKHL J0207-1
Date07 February 1961

[1961] UKHL J0207-1

House of Lords

Viscount Simonds

Lord Merriman

Lord Radcliffe

Lord Keith of Avonholm

Lord Hodson

Riverstone Meat Co. Pty. Limited
and
Lancashire Shipping Co. Limited

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee, to whom was referred the Cause Riverstone Meat Co. Pty. Limited against Lancashire Shipping Co. Limited. That the Committee had heard Counsel, as well on Monday the 5th, as on Tuesday the 6th, Wednesday the 7th, Thursday the 8th, Monday the 12th and Tuesday the 13th, days of December last, upon the Petition and Appeal of Riverstone Meat Co. Pty. Limited, whose principal office is at 7 Hay Street, Sydney, Australia, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 26th of November 1959, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, varied or altered, or that the Petitioners might have such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, might seem meet; as also upon the Case of Lancashire Shipping Co. Limited, lodged in answer to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal, of the 26th day of November 1959, complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby. Reversed, and that Judgment be entered for the Appellants for the sum of £974 Os. 3d. with interest thereon at 5 per centum per annum from the 22d day of July 1953 until the date of payment: And it is further Ordered, That the Respondents do pay, or cause to be paid, to the said Appellants the Costs incurred by them in the Courts below, and also the Costs incurred by them in respect of the said Appeal to this House, the amount of such last-mentioned Costs to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments: And it is also further Ordered, That the Cause be, and the same is hereby, remitted back to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, to do therein as shall be just and consistent with this Judgment.

Viscount Simonds

My Lords,

1

On the 7th May, 1953, 150 cases of canned ox tongue, the property of the Appellants, Riverstone Meat Co. Pty. Limited, were shipped in good order and condition on board the "Muncaster Castle" at Sydney under a bill of lading of that date for carriage to London. It was provided by the bill of lading that it should have effect subject to the Rules (commonly known as the Hague Rules) which are contained in the Schedule to the Australian Sea Carriage of Goods Act, 1924, and that the carriers, the Respondents, should be entitled to all the privileges, rights and immunities contained in that Act and in the Schedule thereto.

2

On the 16th July, 1953, four days after the beginning of the discharge in London, sea water was discovered in the hold in which the goods were stowed and 113 of the Appellants' cases were found to be damaged thereby. It was admitted that in a certain respect which I shall state in some detail the ship was unseaworthy at the beginning of the voyage. I find it necessary to go into detail because it is upon the particular facts of the case that Mr. Justice McNair and the Court of Appeal have relied and that the Respondents rely in supporting their decision upon this appeal. In order that these facts may be presented in as favourable a light as possible to the Respondents I find it convenient to adopt the statement of them in the Respondents' formal Case, which I believe to be accurate. It is as follows: �

"The 'MUNCASTER CASTLE' was built in the United States during the 1939-1945 war and was acquired by the Respondents in 1949. She remained in the Respondents' service until 1955. Throughout this period she was well maintained and classed with the British Corporation (which was united with Lloyds Register in 1949) in the highest class for vessels not built under the supervision of this Classification Society.

In February 1953, immediately before her outward voyage to Australia where she loaded the goods in question in this action, she passed her No. 2 Special Survey by Lloyds Register Surveyors and was reported to be 'so far as seen in good condition and eligible to remain as at present classed in the Register Book'. On the same occasion she was passed through her annual Load Line Survey pursuant to the Load Line Rules. 1941, made under the Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act, 1932, and a report to this effect was issued dated the 3rd February 1953.

The normal practice for classed ships (see Rules 60 and 64 of the Instructions to Surveyors' issued by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in connection with Load Line Surveys) is to carry out the Load Line Survey while the ship is in a drydock and at the same time as a periodical classification survey.

For the purposes of the above Special Survey and Annual Load Line Survey the vessel was placed in the hands of Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited of Glasgow, who are a ship repairing concern of the highest repute.

Under the Load Line Rules, 1941, provision is made for the examination at the annual survey of the discharges leading through the ship's side from spaces below the freeboard deck. In practice, Lloyds' Surveyors (acting as assigning authority on behalf of the Ministry of Transport) are satisfied if 25 % of the sea outlets are opened up for inspection, but it was the Respondents' practice to insist that they should all be opened up. In the case of the Load Line Survey in the drydock in the yard of Alexander Stephen & Son in February 1953, 31 storm valves in the vessel were accordingly opened up for inspection, including the two storm valves in question in No. 5 hold. This was done upon the instructions of one Atkinson, an experienced and competent marine superintendent employed by Moller Line U.K. Limited, the Managers of the vessel, who attended the Glasgow surveys on behalf of the Respondents. The opening up of the storm valves necessarily involved opening up the inspection covers.

After the storm valves had been inspected by the Surveyor to Lloyds Register it was the duty of a fitter employed by Alexander Stephens to replace and close the inspection covers. This is done by placing the inspection cover over the studs in the top of the inspection chamber, placing the nuts in position and tightening up the nuts. The nuts should be tightened gradually at opposite angles so as to ensure that the pressure all round is even. If the nuts are tightened up in the wrong order, i.e. by tightening up all the nuts on one side before those on the other side, the pressure will be uneven and it will be impossible to make a secure joint, and this will also be so if the nuts are not fully tightened. Once the nuts have been tightened up, no visual inspection or tapping with a spanner will reveal improper or insufficient tightening up.

According to ordinary and prudent practice the task of tightening up the nuts on the inspection cover is left to a fitter and is well within the competence of a skilled fitter and is not supervised by Lloyds Surveyors or by the Owners' Superintendent.

The vessel carried cargo on the outward voyage to Australia in No. 5 hold, but none of it was damaged by seawater. After the discharge at Sydney of the outward cargo stowed in the after half of No. 5 hold the hold was inspected by the vessel's Chief Officer. There was no sign of leakage of seawater. The Appellants' cargo was then loaded in the after part of No. 5 lower hold. The vessel then proceeded to Brisbane where the outward cargo in the forward part of the said hold was discharged, as a result of which the places where the storm valves were situated became visible. The Chief Officer again inspected the said hold and there were no signs of seawater staining or rust. No seawater in fact entered No. 5 hold either through the storm valves or at all on the outward voyage to Australia.

On the voyage from Australia to the United Kingdom there was some heavy weather which caused the vessel to roll and pitch, which was sufficient to loosen the nuts of the inspection covers in No. 5 hold if they had been improperly tightened up in Glasgow and there had been some loosening in the working of the ship on the outward voyage.

The cause of the admission of seawater into No. 5 hold and of the damage to the cargo in question was that a fitter employed by Alexander Stephen in Glasgow 'negligently failed to secure the nuts on the inspection cover evenly or sufficiently, with the result that the working of the ship on the outward voyage was sufficient to produce the condition, by the time the Plaintiffs' cargo was loaded at Sydney, that the nuts had been loosened to such an extent that with the vessel rolling and waves striking the sides of the ship, sea water was forced through the interstices below the inspection covers '.

There was no negligence on the part of anyone (other than the fitter) in failing to discover that the nuts had not been evenly or sufficiently tightened, in particular, the failure to discover this was not due to any negligence on the part of Lloyds Surveyor, the Super intendent acting on behalf of the Respondents, or any of the ship's Officers."

3

Upon these facts the Appellants brought an action in the Queen's Bench Division against the Respondents claiming that they were liable for the damage to their goods. The Respondents pleaded that they were protected from liability by the Act and Rules to which I have referred and their plea was upheld by the learned trial judge and by the Court of Appeal. They relied specifically on Section 5 of the Act and Article III, Rule 1, and Article IV, Rule 2, of the Rules which are as follows:

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