Shipping companies are being held to account after a landmark David-and-Goliath-style case found the international transport of pleasure craft must be carried out within 30 days.
A common marketing ploy used by a few powerful charter shipping companies has been to provide consumers with an approximate shipping date, which can then blow out to months – even a year or longer – before boats are freighted.
(See page two for the particulars of the case.)
Biddle Lawyers commercial litigation solicitor Gemma Robson represented Leisure Freight & Import in the case.
“This is a landmark win for customers on a global scale, and sets a significant precedent,” Ms Robson said.
Leisure Freight & Import director Dianne Lyons said the decision would have positive implications for customers globally.
“This will open up the sector to other ethical operators; enhancing competition, resulting in market-based pricing and more principled business practices,” Ms Lyons said.
“Nominated ships and shipping dates now have to be genuine, with delivery within one month. Charter shipping businesses will now have to be customer-centric in order to survive the industry paradigm shift that is sure to follow,” she said.
Both “No Hurry” and “Almost Paradise” did ultimately arrive in Brisbane, but not until Ms Lyons personally shipped them independently to transport them – along with the boats of other clients – to Australia.
In a media release dated April 11, 2013, the American Federal Maritime Commission stated it had received an increased number of complaints involving the international transport of yachts purchased by individual customers where yachts were not shipped a year after owners had signed booking contracts.
“Many people stuck in these types of shipping contracts may now be in a position to get their boats out with alternative genuine providers, which is fantastic news,” Ms Lyons said.
“These companies can’t get away with this practise anymore,” she said.
A 36 foot Albin Trawler yacht ironically known as “No Hurry” had been purchased by an Australian couple from a dealer in the US. They were trying to ship the craft to Brisbane, and engaged Leisure Freight & Import to handle the transaction. Spliethoff Transport BV was contracted to provide the freight services, with an approximate shipping date of mid-April 2012.
A second yacht, the 42 foot Silverton Convertible “Almost Paradise” was also booked for shipping with Spliethoff Transport BV in April 2012.
Both “No Hurry” and “Almost Paradise” waited in Palm Beach, Florida, for more than three months.
By August, when the yachts had still not been shipped, Leisure Freight & Import sought to cancel the bookings. Spliethoff Transport BV commenced legal action seeking damages for breach of contract.
During the period from when the bookings were made through to the cancellation date, Spliethoff Transport BV misrepresented several sailing dates, and even suggested bogus ships were available to transport the yachts.
In the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, under the internationally recognised Carriage of Goods By Sea Act 1991, Judge Raphael found that a reasonable time for shipment would be within one month from the signed booking. Therefore, Leisure Freight & Import had the right to cancel the bookings, and was not in breach of contract – rather, Spliethoff Transport BV had repudiated by failing to provide the services they were engaged for.
In his judgement, Judge Raphael stated he believed Spliethoff Transport BV had a clear intention to “only perform its contractual obligation when it suited it.”
The full judgement is available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/cth/FCCA/2013/27.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=leisure%20freight
Available for interview:
Dianne Lyons, Director, Leisure Freight and Import
Gemma Robson, Commercial Litigation Solicitor, Biddle Lawyers
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