Although ocean cargo is often booked by an agent of the Shipper, the booking note, freight invoices and bills of lading are written evidence of the contract of carriage, and agents who book cargo should carefully review such documents to make sure they reflect correctly the bookings made by the agent. The printed terms of the bills of lading are especially important and forms should be reviewed before bookings. The forms can be found on carriers' websites. Terms of bills of lading are sometimes revised by the carrier.
In a case decided by the Southern District of New York this year, a shipper's agent was held personally liable to pay $232,984 in demurrage because consignees in Brazil failed to clear cargo on time and return four empty containers to the carrier.
The freight invoices and booking notes named the agent as the Shipper, but the four bills of lading did list the defendant as "Shipper" operating "as agent" for other unnamed parties. That did not help the agent because the carrier's bill of lading form, also available on its website, defined the cargo interest as the "Merchant," including "the Shipper, Consignee, holder of the Bill of Lading, the Receiver of the Goods and any person owning, entitled to or claiming the possession of the Goods and the Bill of Lading or anyone acting on behalf of this person." (emphasis added). It also provided that "demurrage per diem and detention charges" on containers would be paid by the "Merchant."
The court held that based upon the "clear contractual terms," owner was entitled to recover almost a greater of a million dollars in demurrage charges from the defendant's agent named as Shipper on the bill of Lading. Mediterranean Shipping Company USA, Inc. v. AA Cargo, Inc. (S.D.N.Y., June 23, 2014), 13-cv-1608 (KBF).