Vessel owners rarely carry cargo for their own account. More commonly by far, a vessel owner will charter its vessel to another party to carry their (or their sub-charterer’s) cargo. The contracts can vary widely—from voyage charters or contracts of affreightment to time charters and negotiable bills of lading (not to mention the more complex arrangements that one often sees for container cargos). But in most instances, vessel owners are in the business of transporting cargo on behalf of others and, all going well, of being paid to do so. This article is about one mechanism the vessel owner may use to ensure that it gets paid: the maritime lien against cargo.
The Impracticalities of Settled U.S. Maritime Law
It has been settled for over a century under U.S. maritime law that a shipowner has a maritime lien against cargo for charges incurred during the course of its carriage. As the Supreme Court stated in its 1866 decision in Bird of Paridise,1 “Ship-owners, unquestionably, as a general rule, have a lien upon the cargo for the freight, and consequently may retain the goods after the arrival of the ship at port of destination until the payment is made.” Traditionally, a maritime lien against cargo for freight and demurrage was considered a “possessory” lien, meaning that the lien is lost upon the delivery of the cargo to the consignee. To exercise its maritime lien, in other words, the vessel owner was expected to retain possession and control of the cargo until payment; if no payment was received, it needed to enforce its lien by maritime arrest while the cargo remained in its possession. Continue reading “Exercising Maritime Liens against Cargo and Sub-Freights”