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31 Jan 2020

Novel Coronavirus, shipping and international trade 新型冠状病毒,航运和国际贸易

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While little is known about the novel coronavirus, what is clear is that the global shipping industry will inevitably be affected as the virus spreads globally at alarming speed. It has been reported that cruise holidays have been affected and that cases of suspected novel coronavirus have been reported in commercial crew. The World Health Organisation has now declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
虽然目前对于新型冠状病毒(下称“新冠病毒”)所知甚少,然而可以确定的一点是由于病毒以令人震惊的速度席卷全球,世界航运业将不可避免地受到影响。有报道称邮轮度假已经受到影响,另外目前已出现商船船员疑似感染新冠病毒病例。世界卫生组织(下称“世卫组织”)已宣布此次疫情的爆发为国际关注的公共卫生紧急事件。

We are already instructed in a matter where the suspension of a sales contract has resulted in the premature termination of shipping contracts. We are dealing with disputes over drafting of loan documentation to reflect the current situation, and we are seeing notices of force majeure that have been precipitated by the outbreak.
我们已收到委托,处理一起因中止履行买卖合同导致提前终止航运合同的纠纷。我们处理有关贷款文件起草的争议,以反映当前情形。我们也看到由于疫情的爆发而发出的不可抗力通知。

The shipping and international trade industries should ready themselves for potential disputes arising from the impact of the virus.  These will not be limited to delays or breaches caused by quarantines and port closures, but will also have an impact on sale contracts, trade finance arrangements, shipbuilding, offshore construction projects, ship financing and leasing, and insurance.
航运和国际贸易行业应当做好自身准备,应对因新冠病毒的影响可能引起的潜在争议。这不仅限于因检疫隔离和港口关闭导致的延误或违约,同样也会对买卖合同、贸易融资安排、造船、海上工程项目、船舶融资和租赁以及保险产生影响。

Force majeure
不可抗力

Unlike civil law systems, under the common law there is no general definition of “force majeure”.  It is a concept purely of contract.  Therefore, force majeure has only the meaning given to it by the contract which governs the relationship between the parties. If the specific event, or one very like it, is not mentioned, it cannot be a force majeure event. It is very important therefore when considering whether to declare force majeure or what to do with a force majeure notice relating to novel coronavirus that the specific requirements of the contract are adhered to. There is no “one size fits all”.
不同于大陆法系,在普通法下并无“不可抗力”的通用定义。这完全是合同界定的概念。因此,不可抗力只能由具有规管缔约方关系的合同赋予其含义。合同中没有提及的具体事件或者与之相似度极高的事件,不能作为不可抗力事件。因此在考虑是否宣布新冠病毒的爆发为不可抗力或者如何处理新冠病毒相关的不可抗力通知时,遵守合同的具体要求是非常重要的。然而这一问题,并无“通用标准”。

In addition, it is important to consider the effects of the specific force majeure clause. Some clauses operate to suspend performance until the end of the force majeure event (e.g. GATFA standard “prevention of shipment” clause), others operate to extend time for performance (payment or delivery) and others will operate to bring the contract to an end. Exercising the wrong option will itself be a breach of contract.
除此以外,重要的一点是需要考虑具体不可抗力条款的效力。有些条款规定在不可抗力事件结束之前中止履约(如GATFA标准“阻止装运(prevention of shipment)”条款),而有些条款则规定延长履约时间(付款或交付),有些条款则规定终止合同。行使错误的条款本身会构成违约。

Further, parties to contracts should be aware that a force majeure in one contract, such as an agreement for the sale of goods, will not necessarily be a force majeure in another connected or related contract – such as a shipping or finance contract. This has the potential to cause an uneven allocation of loss in a chain of international trade contracts
另外,合同缔约方应当知悉,某一项合同(例如货物买卖协议)中规定的不可抗力并不必然构成另一关联或相关合同(例如航运或融资合同)中的不可抗力情形。这可能在国际贸易合同的上下游关系中造成损失的分配不均衡。

In considering whether or not novel coronavirus constitutes a force majeure event careful consideration will need to be given to the cause of the delay or interruption in performance.  For instance, the clause may not include “epidemics” (and of course there is a question whether the current situation will amount to an epidemic in law). However, the prevention of performance may arise because a governmental body has prevented performance (i.e. a declaration of port closure by a central government).  However, actions by private corporations, such as banks, even if taken for the safety of employees, may not be sufficient to amount to a force majeure. All of this will turn on the wording of the relevant force majeure or exceptions clause.
在考虑新冠病毒是否构成不可抗力事件时,需要仔细审视延误或中断履约的原因。例如,条款中没有纳入“传染病”(当然也有个问题是当前情形是否构成法律意义上的传染病)。但是可能由于政府机构已经阻止履约(如中央政府宣布关闭港口),而出现履约不能的情形。然而,对于私营企业(如银行)采取的行动,即使这些行动是为了雇员的安全着想,可能不足以构成不可抗力。这将取决于相关不可抗力或例外条款的措辞。

Although many contracts for the carriage of goods do not contain specific force majeure clauses, it is important to remember that there are exceptions to liability set out in the Hague and Hague-Visby Rules which may apply.
尽管很多货运合同没有载明具体的不可抗力条款,需要记住的是《海牙规则》和《海牙维斯比规则》中列明了可能适用的责任例外情形

Chartering
船舶租赁

In the context of chartering, whether time or voyage charters, there are a number of ways in which novel coronavirus may affect contractual obligations:
在船舶租赁中,无论是期租租约或是航次租约,此次新冠病毒事件可能以多种方式影响合同义务:

Seaworthiness
适航性

A vessel may become unfit to receive and carry the cargo it is chartered for after calling at an infected area.  In MatianaCiampa v British India Steam Navigation Company, Limited [1915] 2 K.B. 774 (“The Matiana”), a vessel carrying lemons underwent compulsory sulphur fumigation at a French port after calling at a plague port, which caused the lemons to rot.  The vessel was held unseaworthy.  Similarly, if a vessel is delayed due to quarantine regulations which in turn cause damage to  cargo, the vessel may be considered unseaworthy.
船舶在停靠疫区后,可能会变得不适于接收和运输货物。在MatianaCiampa v British India Steam Navigation Company, Limited [1915] 2 K.B. 774案中(下称“The Matiana”案),一艘运输柠檬的船舶在停靠染疫港口后,在法国一个港口被强制进行熏硫处理,这就导致柠檬腐烂。船舶被认定为不适航。类似地,如果船舶由于检疫隔离规定而出现延误,从而导致货物受损,船舶可能被认为不适航。

Safe port warranties
安全港口保证

Charterparties often contain warranties, express or implied, given by charterers to order vessels to ports that are safe.  A port will not be safe unless in the relevant period of time, the particular ship can reach it, use it and return from it without, in the absence of some abnormal occurrence, being exposed to danger which cannot be avoided by good navigation and seamanship.  If a particular port is not safe, then owners may be able to refuse to comply with the charterers’ order.  This can be a complex issue because whether a port is safe is a question of fact and is likely to depend on medical evidence such as the likelihood of the crew being exposed to the coronavirus and the fatality rate.
租约通常载有承租人作出的、其应要求船舶驶向安全港口的保证(无论是明示亦或是默示保证)。除非在相关时期内,特定船舶能够抵达、使用港口并从港口返航,在没有异常事件的情况下,不会遭受任何经良好引航和航海技术却无法避免的危险,否则港口则不能称为安全。如果某个特定港口不安全,那么船东可拒绝听从承租人的指令。这是个复杂的问题,因为港口是否安全是个事实问题,且可能取决于医学证据,例如船员接触新冠病毒的可能性以及新冠病毒的致死率。

Off-hire
停租

Depending on the wording of the time charter, delays or deviations caused by quarantine may place the vessel off-hire.  For instance, clause 15 of the NYPE 1946 form provides that no hire is payable for the time lost caused by “deficiency of men […] or by any other cause, preventing the full working of the vessel”.   External interference (as opposed to the inherent physical inefficiency of the vessel) that prevents the full working of a vessel, e.g. fumigation required by a port health authority, may suffice.  It may therefore be possible to argue that quarantine required as a result of a large number of infected crew members is a “deficiency of men” and thus an off-hire event.  Owners may nonetheless argue that the delay is a natural and inevitable result of complying with charterers’ order and the vessel should remain on-hire.
根据期租租约所采用的措辞,因检疫隔离造成的延误或绕航可能使得船舶停租。例如,NYPE 1946格式合同第15条规定,因“人手不足[…]或任何其他阻止船舶全面运作的原因”而损失的时间内不予支付租金。阻止船舶全面运作的外部干涉(与船舶固有的实际效率低下相对),如港口卫生部门要求进行的熏烟消毒,则可能足以构成停租原因。因此可能可以主张,由于感染的船员人数众多而被要求检疫隔离构成“人手不足”,从而构成停租事件。然而,船东亦可能主张,延误是由于听从承租人指令而天然、不可避免地造成的结果,因此船舶仍处于租船状态。

Laytime
装卸时间

In the context of voyage charter, some charters contain express quarantine clauses.  For example, the Asbatankvoy Charter expressly excludes charterers from liability caused by delay resulting from quarantine declared after charterers have given owners orders, meaning that that owners will not be entitled to demurrage in respect of such delay.
在航次租约情况下,有些租约载有明确的检疫隔离条款。例如,航次租约(Asbatankvoy Charter)中明确免除了承租人因其向船东发出指令之后宣布的检疫隔离导致延误的责任,即船东无权对该等延误索取滞期费。

In other charters, the issue of “free pratique” may arise if the wording requires the vessel to be in “free pratique” before laytime can commence.  Owners will then not be able to tender a notice of readiness until free pratique is obtained.  As a result, owners will be bound to bear the costs of obtaining for the vessel a free pratique if the vessel has called at an infected area, or if certain crew members are suspected of infection, so that the notice of readiness can validly be tendered.
在其他租约中,如果租约措辞要求船舶在起算装卸时间之前取得“船舶入境卫生检疫许可(free pratique)”,则可能出现“船舶入境卫生检疫许可”问题。船东在取得舶入境卫生检疫许可前,不得递交准备就绪通知书。因此,如果船舶曾停靠疫区,或如有船员疑似感染,则船东应承担取得船舶入境卫生检疫许可的费用,方能有效地提交准备就绪通知书。

Crew
船员

We have noted from news reports that some ships’ crew have been identified as infected with novel coronavirus.  This will inevitably cause delays.  In addition, shipowners may not wish to carry out crew changeovers in affected areas.
我们注意到新闻报道称已有一些船员被确认感染了新冠病毒的情况。这将不可避免地导致延误。除此以外,船东可能不希望更换疫区的船员。

It is the responsibility of the employer to take full precautions to protect their crew (a duty of care), by overseeing hygiene, reporting any symptoms and limiting crew’s exposure to the virus.
雇主有责任采取全面的预防措施,通过监督卫生、上报症状以及限制船员接触病毒的方式,从而保护自己的船员(注意义务)。

Generally speaking, P&I cover will indemnify owners for losses arising from crew death or illness, crew repatriation and substitution, quarantine fines and cargo losses.  However, it will not usually cover commercial losses arising from deviation or lost time or lost hire.
通常而言,保赔险将会赔偿船东因船员致死或致病、船员送返和替换、检疫罚款和货物灭失导致的损失。但是,这通常不会涉及因绕航或时间损失或租金损失产生的商业损失。

Carriage of goods
货物运输

In the event that a vessel or cargo is quarantined, articles IV rule 2(g) and (h) of the Hague or Hague Visby Rules may apply.  These provisions operate to exempt carriers from any loss or damage arising or resulting from “restraint of princes” and quarantine restrictions, although the former may be wide enough to cover the latter.
当船舶或者货物被检疫隔离,则可能适用《海牙规则》或《海牙维斯比规则》第四条规则2(g)和(h)。该等条款规定免除承运人因“政权限制”和检疫限制(尽管前者可能足以涵括后者的情况)而产生或导致的任何损失或损害。

If it becomes necessary to deviate, say, to avoid confiscation or to repatriate crew members that have fallen ill, owners may also seek to rely on article IV rule 4 of the Hague or Hague Visby Rules which provides that “any deviation in saving or attempting to save life or property at sea or any reasonable deviation shall not be deemed to be an infringement or breach of these rules or of the contract of carriage, and the carrier shall not be liable for any loss or damage resulting therefrom”.  The deviation should not be greater than reasonably necessary in the circumstances and is at the owners’ own expense.
如有必要绕航,例如为了避免被没收或为了送返患病的船员,船东亦可依赖《海牙规则》或《海牙维斯比规则》第四条第4项规则,该条规定“为救助或企图救助海上人命或财产而发生的绕航,或任何合理绕航,都不能作为破坏或违反本公约或运输合同的行为,承运人对由此而引起的任何灭失或损害,都不负责”。绕航范围不得超过相关情形下合理必要的范围,且应由船东自负开支。

Ship finance
船舶融资

Lenders and borrowers alike may be concerned about the effect of the novel coronavirus on the earning capacity of vessels. If vessels are servicing long-term sales contracts which are affected by a force majeure, the financial impact could be significant.
贷款人和借款人可能会担心新冠病毒对于船舶盈利能力的影响。如果船舶正处于某一长期合同中,而该等合同受到不可抗力的影响,那么可能会产生巨大的经济影响。

Where a lending or leasing arrangement involves a bareboat charter with a “hell or high water” payment clause, the borrower/charterer will be required to pay hire whether or not the ship is earning. This may place the borrower/charterer in financial difficulties.  While the effect may not be immediate, if the outbreak continues for a significant period of time, the borrower may attempt to redeliver the vessel under the bareboat charter, or may become insolvent. This could leave the financial institution in a situation where it becomes an operational shipowner and is thereby exposed to the general commercial shipping market, including potential liabilities and complexities mentioned above.
当贷款或租赁安排涉及含有“绝对责任(hell or high water)支付条款”的光船租约,无论船舶是否盈利,借款人/承租人都将被要求支付租金。这可能导致借款人/承租人陷入财务困境。尽管这一影响不会即时出现,但如果疫情持续较长的时间,借款人可能会试图根据光船租约交还船舶,或者可能面临破产。这可能导致金融机构成为船舶的经营性船东,由此直面一般商业航运市场,包括上文提及的潜在责任和复杂情形。

In relation to current projects that are being negotiated, there will be an opportunity to include bespoke drafting to clarify uncertainties that have presented themselves because of the outbreak.  In particular there is a large degree of uncertainty at present surrounding the operation of businesses in the People’s Republic of China (“P.R.C”) – for example it is not possible to predict when banks and financial institutions will be operational.  Matters such as payment terms and the definition of what comprises a “banking day” under the contract may need to be considered.
对于目前正在谈判阶段的项目,有机会加入定制条款,以阐明由于当前疫情爆发而使项目出现的不确定性。特别是对于在中国正常开展业务的情况,当前不确定程度很大——例如无法预测银行和金融机构何时才能对外营业。如支付条款和如何界定合同项下“银行日”定义的事项需要予以考虑。

Shipbuilding and offshore construction
船舶建造和海上工程

Most shipbuilding/offshore construction contracts contain provisions regarding force majeure.  We understand that some shipyards in the P.R.C are already issuing force majeure notices to buyers.  Careful examination of the force majeure clause is necessary to ensure that such notices are properly tendered, and can in fact validly be given in the circumstances.
大多数船舶建造/海上工程合同载有不可抗力相关条款。我们理解中国有些船厂已经向买方发出了不可抗力通知。不可抗力条款必须予以谨慎地审阅,从而确保妥善地发出该等通知,且得以在该情形下能够实际有效地发出通知。

We are already dealing with issues arising from the issue of force majeure notices in respect of the supply items with long lead times intended to have been produced in the P.R.C.  Some issues to consider are whether or not the situation properly fits within the scope of the force majeure provisions, and whether or not the resultant disruption of supply is sufficient to affect the critical path of the building or construction project.  The purpose of these notices is to allow any delay to the project to be considered a “permissible delay” and thereby extend the delivery date.
我们已处理了一些因发出不可抗力通知而产生的问题,这些是针对交货期较长,且在中国生产的货品。需要考虑的是实际情形是否切实符合不可抗力规定的范畴,由此导致的供应中断是否足以影响造船或工程项目的关键节点。这些通知的目的是为了允许项目延误被视为“允许的延误”,从而推迟交付日期。

Clause 34(a) (i) of NEWBUILDCON states that ”government interference” and ”epidemics” constitute force majeure events.  Should the authorities intervene in the progress of a ship building project in an attempt to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, or should the work force be depleted due to infection, further knock on effects could result including the possibility that the buyer could obtain the right to terminate the contract in accordance with clause 39(a) (iii)(1).
《标准造船合同(NEWBUILDCON)》第34(a)(i)条规定“政府干预”和“传染病”构成不可抗力事件。若相关当局为了限制新冠病毒的传播而干预了造船项目的进度,或若由于感染病毒而导致人手不足,那么可能导致进一步的连锁效应,包括买方有可能根据第39(a)(iii)(1)条取得终止合同的权利。

International sale of goods and trade finance
国际货物销售和贸易融资

Buyers, sellers and their financing banks may be exposed to additional risks arising from or in relation to the novel coronavirus.
买卖双方及各自的融资银行可能会面临因新冠病毒引起或与之相关的其他风险。

As mentioned above, there may be legitimate force majeure considerations. However, it is also possible that force majeure has been invoked invalidly under the relevant sales contract.
如上所述,可能存在合法的不可抗力因素。但是亦有可能在相关买卖合同项下无法有效地援引不可抗力。

In addition, there may be other indirect effects on the international trade industry:
除此以外,可能对国际贸易行业产生其他间接影响:

  • Carriers may be prevented from entering certain ports as they may be closed or free pratique may not be granted;
  • 由于港口关闭或未能取得船舶入境卫生检疫许可,承运人可能被阻止进入某些港口;
  • If sale contracts are unable to be performed, security provided to financiers may be jeopardised;
  • 如果无法履行买卖合同,那么向融资方提供的担保可能受损;
  • Letters of credit may have been issued but the underlying transaction may be delayed beyond the validity of the documentary credit.This may give rise to a situation where bills of lading or other documents may need to be amended to meet the requirements of the documentary credit. Trade finance banks will need to be additionally vigilant in this regard.
  • 信用证可能已出具,但是相关交易可能延误超出跟单信用证的有效期。这就会导致提单或其他凭证需要修改,才能满足跟单信用证的要求。在此方面,贸易融资银行需要额外谨慎;
  • Prices of commodities exported into or out of affected areas may fluctuate wildly. These variations may prompt parties to re-evaluate their existing contractual arrangements, and consider whether they wish to continue to be bound to their obligations.
  • 疫区进出口商品价格可能大幅波动。这些变动可能促使各方重新评估现有的合同安排,并考虑是否愿意继续履行各自义务。

Insurance
保险

As noted above, P&I cover will cover a number of losses relevant to the novel coronavirus outbreak.  The cover may extend to delay related to cargo loss which is associated with the exercise of a force majeure clause. In a situation involving quarantine or port closure issues, there is potential for charterparty disputes to arise – in such circumstances the legal costs of defending such claims may be covered by Defence insurance.
如上所述,保赔险将会涵盖新冠病毒爆发相关引起的多项损失。赔付范围可能延伸至与行使不可抗力条款有关的货物灭失相关的延误。在涉及检疫隔离或港口关闭问题的情况中,可能会出现租约纠纷——在该等情况下,对该等索赔进行抗辩所产生的法律费用可能由抗辩险赔付。

As to other forms of insurance, many policies contain exclusions for global pandemics. This is principally because insurers are unable to calculate the risks and costs of such an event.
对于其他险种,很多保单都载有全球性流行病的除外条款。这主要是由于保险公司无法计算该等事件的风险和成本。

Standard business interruption insurance cover is usually only triggered by physical damage to property or equipment.  The fact that a virus has emerged does not necessarily mean that there will be physical damage.  Some businesses may have purchased contingent business interruption cover.  This will engage only if the specific circumstances described in the policy are met.  As with force majeure, careful attention to the precise wording of the policy will be required.
标准业务中断险通常只能因财产或设备实际受损才能启用。出现病毒并不必然意味着存在实际损害。有些公司已购买了应急业务中断险。这一保险只有在满足保单所述的具体情形时才能启用。至于不可抗力,需要谨慎对待保单所采用的具体措辞。

Further information
进一步信息

As the situation with the novel coronavirus is a developing one, readers are encouraged to seek the latest information from the WHO (www.who.int) and the US Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov).
由于新冠病毒的情形目前正在不断发展,我们建议读者关注世卫组织(www.who.int)和美国疾控中心(www.cdc.gov)查看最新消息。

Conclusion
结语

There are many unknowns at present: how quickly will the novel coronavirus will spread; to which areas will it spread; how deadly is the virus;  what will be the reactions of governments, shippers, charterers, traders, banks and port authorities.  The anxiety surrounding the spread of the virus and the uncertainty of how authorities will respond will no doubt lead to a number of stakeholders taking action to protect their position or to gain a commercial advantage.  Extra diligence will be required to protect contractual rights and ensure that the bargains that parties have entered into are upheld.
目前阶段未知因素众多:新冠病毒传播速度、传播区域、病毒的致死性、以及各政府、托运人、承租人、贸易商、银行和港口主管机关的反应。大众对于病毒传播的担忧,以及当局如何应对的不确定性无疑迫使利益相关方采取行动,以求自保或者取得商业优势。为保护合同权益,确保维护各方达成的契约,需要额外谨慎。

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Andrew Rigden Green

Andrew Rigden Green
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T:  +852 2533 2761 M:  +852 6013 2520 Email Andrew | Vcard Office:  Hong Kong

John Simpson

John Simpson
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T:  +65 6622 9565 M:  Email John | Vcard Office:  Singapore

Rory Grout

Rory Grout
Senior associate

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Elizabeth Sloane

Elizabeth Sloane
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T:  +852 3166 6926 M:  Email Elizabeth | Vcard Office:  Hong Kong