Whether it’s algebra or shipping law – always double check the little details
My error was not reading the “applicable law” clause on the placemat. It specifically referred to the BODMAS rule – which dictates which order the component parts of the calculation are carried out. In this case, multiplication before addition. In reviewing any contract it is important to identify which law applies. Shipping contracts are usually written under English law, but not always. The law of Scotland can produce different results when used to interpret some contractual terms.
- I had wrongly placed significance on the lack of brackets enclosing “Y x Z”. When interpreting any contract the precise wording and punctuation can have great significance if there is any ambiguity. In Osmium Shipping v Cargill International (“The Captain Stefanos”) the English Commercial Court held that the correct interpretation of a charterparty contract as to whether a hijacking by Somali pirates rendered a vessel off-hire depended on the significance that a reasonable reader would attach to the comma after the words “capture/seizure”.
- Most shipping contracts are in standard forms. The precise wording of the contract has been subject to consultation with industry and experts, and then interpretation by the courts. The standard forms are often amended for a particular contract, with varying degrees of care. What the person making the amendment wants the contract to mean might differ from how the courts or the reasonable reader would interpret it. A second opinion from someone with the appropriate skills can be a good idea when standard form terms are being revised or interpreted. In my case the second opinion came from my early-teens nephew.
- Finally, take a breath before sending a grumpy email.
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