(Abstract)Determination of the reason of the damage of cargo caused by the failure to plug in when reefer containers arrive at the destination port, and determination of the fault under the current electronic data exchange mode

Basic details of the case] On December 11, 2013, Swire Shipping Co., Ltd. accepted the carriage of frozen fish as entrusted by the cargo owner. After the reefer containers arrive at Singapore, the port of transshipment, Swire delivered the goods to be shipped from Singapore to Ningbo to the plaintiff Wan Hai Lines Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Wanhai”) for carriage. For the 304E voyage of “SCI Qinnai,” the ship carrying the goods, the shipping space was shared by two sea transportation carriers, that is, Shipping Corporation of India and Wanhai. The ship agency of Shipping Corporation of India in the Port of Ningbo was China Ocean Shipping Agency Ningbo (hereinafter referred to as “PENAVICO.”) When unloading the goods, the operator of Ningbo Beilun International Container Pier Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Pier Company”) noticed that the two heavy reefer containers were not marked as reefers, and there was no list of reefers in the import materials. Thus, the operator called the dock operator of Shipping Corporation of India, asking whether the two containers contained any frozen cargo or were just used for dry cargo (i.e. the reefer containers were used to contain common cargo instead of dry cargo containers), and was told to handle them according to the materials received and if there was no information at all, handle them as common containers. Thus, the Pier Company handled the two reefer containers as common cargo, and shipped them to the dry cargo container zone for unplugged storage. On March 25, 2014, when picking up the goods, the cargo owner found that the two containers were not frozen with plug in during the period from March 21 to 25, and the cargo could not meet the original usage. The cargo owner instituted a lawsuit with this Court after selling the goods at a lower price, holding Swire liable for the cargo damage as well as the interest, plug-in expenses, unloading delay fee, refrigeration fee, etc. This Court made Judgment (2014) Y. H. F. Sh. Ch. No. 731 on May 11, 2015, ordering Swire to be liable for the loss of payment for goods of RMB 546,995.40 suffered by Haixing and the interest. According to the foregoing judgment, Swire paid Haixing a compensation of RMB 653,656.49 on August 9, 2016, and then sued Wanhai for the foregoing losses with this Court. This Court made Civil Judgment (2016) Zh. 72 M. Ch. No. 2348 on June 12, 2018, ordering Wanhai to pay Swire its losses of RMB 653,656.49, the interest therein and the case handling fee of RMB 9,264. According to the judgment, Wanhai actually paid Swire the compensation of RMB 653,656.49, the interest of 62,097.37 and the litigation cost of RMB 9,264, totaling 725,017.86, and instituted an action concerning this case against the Pier Company and PENAVICO at this Court.

Through trial, the Ningbo Maritime Court found that: The disputed cargo damage was caused by the failure to timely plug in for the refrigeration of the goods after unloading at the Port of Ningbo, the ownership to the cargo of Haixing was infringed upon, and Haixing should have the right to hold the responsible party liable for the infringement. Wanhai claimed that the two defendants should be liable for infringement, and should prove that the two defendants had fault in the course of unloading of the disputed goods. The operator of Pier Company had reasonably noticed such situation, and had inquired about whether the two reefer containers were used for dry cargo based on his/her operation experience. Thus, the operator had already fulfilled the duty of diligence and should not be liable for the incident. Regarding PENAVICO, as the disputed stowage plan and the shipping bill EDI were provided by the carrier, PENAVICO was just the forwarder and should not be obliged to review the information on the stowage plan and the shipping bill. Thus, PENAVICO did not have any fault therein. As prescribed by Paragraph 1, Article 64 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Litigation, the Court dismissed the claims of Wanhai. Wanhai was not satisfied with the judgment of first instance and filed an appeal. The Zhejiang Provincial Higher People’s Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original judgment.

[Typical significance] With the rapid development of modern ports and logistics industry, massive ship and cargo data have been in operation and transmission electronically. Compared with the early mode of manual loading and unloading based on written documents in the early days of shipping, under the modern port operation mode that relies on electronic data for automatic loading and unloading, electronic data are automatically identified by computer, a large quantity of data are handled in an unmanned manner, and there is little or even no manual intervention. Thus, the duty of diligence of dock operators should be lower than that in the manual era. In the early days of shipping, in the event that a few containers were unloaded from a ship and a docker found that some cargo was described as a reefer on the paper documents, even if it was not written at the correct place, the docker still had the duty of due diligence to check and take care of the reefer container, while in the modern shipping industry, if this duty of diligence is still demanded, the application of high technology and the development of shipping modernization will be restricted. The typical significance of this case is that the judgment made by a court must keep up with the pace of the times, follow the trend, and guide and promote the development and progress of high technology with judgments.