The North of England P&I club - one of the smaller marine-insurance liability mutuals - has urged shipowners worldwide to take a united stand against fraudulent practices by shippers in China, practices the club says are becoming widespread.
Investigations by the club have turned up a growing insistence by Chinese shippers that the master of a ship issue a clean bill of lading regardless of the condition of the cargo. If a cargo is signed for as being in perfect condition at the beginning of a voyage and found to be damaged at the other end, the shipowner is left open to being sued for damages by the receiver of the goods.However, according the club, shippers sending goods from China frequently threaten uncooperative captains with detention - a tactic the club said is usually successful. Letters of indemnity are also sometimes offered, but these have no legal standing and would, furthermore, provide evidence of the shipowners as colluding in fraud, the club said.
The club said its inquiries suggest that shipowners are entitled to stand their ground, having received confirmation from Chinese legal authorities that shippers preventing correct remarks on bills of lading are acting contrary to Chinese maritime law. In theory, the captain would be supported by the Chinese courts. However, the club advised keeping disputes to a minimum by coordinating with local cargo-inspection agencies.