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The Algerian Supreme Court has upheld a separate recourse action by shipowners against stevedores.

Introduction
Problems with cargo damaged by stevedores’ mishandling during discharge operations are usual for shipowners calling at Algerian ports.

Article 802 of the Algerian Maritime Code provides that the carrier is strictly liable and responsible for the cargo condition and quantity until delivery to receivers, so in most cases there is no benefit in joining stevedores in proceedings against the owners. However, the Algerian Supreme Court has recently upheld a separate recourse action against stevedores.

Background
The vessel GIMO ONE carried a cargo of flour in bags from Bologna to Algiers in July 1996. The cargo was damaged due to stevedores’ mishandling during discharge operations. Proceedings were commenced in Algiers by cargo interests. The carrier filed a separate recourse action against the stevedores instead of joining them to the proceedings commenced by cargo. The carrier was condemned in the action commenced by cargo.

However, the first instance tribunal judging the separate recourse action against the stevedores condemned the stevedores to pay the cargo interests the amount payable by the carrier in the first action. The tribunal relied on the findings in the survey report. The stevedores’ appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed. They then appealed to the Supreme Court and argued the following:
1. There was an infringement of the essential rules of procedures due to the fact that they were condemned to comply with a judgment to which they were not a party;
2. According to the dispositions of the Algerian Maritime Code, article 802, and the previous decisions of the Supreme Court, it is the carrier who should be held responsible; therefore, there was a violation of law.

The Supreme Court decision1
The main action had been filed by the cargo interest against the carrier. Therefore, the carrier was entitled to file a separate recourse action against the stevedores in order to pass liability on to them. There was no infringement of the procedures.

There was no violation of any law since article 802 of the Algerian Maritime Code had been applied in the main action. In the recourse action the condemnation of the stevedores had been based upon the surveyor’s findings.

The stevedores’ appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected.

The successful separate recourse action against the stevedores upheld by the Supreme Court is now a final judgment. It constitutes a precedent which should be followed by the lower courts.

Recommendation to members
Carriers should consider appointing a surveyor for the purpose of monitoring cargo discharge jointly with the receivers’ appointed surveyor.

Algeria is a party to the Hague Rules. Members are therefore advised to note that a recourse action must be filed within three months from settlement of the main claim or service of a writ.

We are grateful to Mr. Mohammed M. Neffous, Neffous Shipping & Consulting, for the above information.

1  M/V GIMO ONE at Algiers discharging a cargo of flour in bags – Judgment No. 273984.

 

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