15 Feb 2013

Newsletter from the International Transport, Trade & Energy Department, Vereeniging Meat Packers (Pty) Ltd v Lykes Lines Ltd LLC

Practice Area(s): Shipping & Logistics |

Shepstone and Wylie acted in this matter for Lykes Lines Ltd LLC ("the Plaintiff shipping line").  During 2006 the Plaintiff shipping line instituted action against Vereeniging Meat Packers (Pty) Ltd ("the Defendant") for payment of the sum of US$ 21,601.25 for breach of a contract of carriage.  The breach was the Defendant's failure to return a shipping container to the Plaintiff shipping line.

The court of first instance (in Durban) found that two issues arose for consideration:

  1. whether the Plaintiff shipping line had established that it had suffered a financial loss occasioned by the loss of the container; and
  2. whether the Defendant was liable to compensate the Plaintiff shipping line for the loss suffered.

The court answered both issues in the affirmative and granted judgment in favour of the Plaintiff shipping line.  In finding for the Plaintiff, the court relied on, the oral evidence of the Plaintiff shipping line's Director of Operations regarding an "internal arrangement."

The Defendant appealed against the judgment and was successful.

The full court, with respect, erred in its findings in a number of respects, in particular its finding that the Plaintiff shipping line's damages are by nature "special damages".  The unfortunate effect of this finding is that a shipping line will now be precluded from recovering its actual damages in respect of leased containers.  Such claims will be determined with reference to the proved market value of the particular container, at the time of the loss.

Given the importance of these principles to the Plaintiff shipping line, and to the shipping industry as a whole, the Plaintiff shipping line has applied for special leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.