What are the Hague Rules in relation to maritime law?


The Hague Rules, or Hague Visby Rules, relate to the carriage of goods by sea, and form a key part of both international and domestic maritime law. This can be a complex exercise and if you are involved in the shipping of cargo abroad, you should take legal advice from an expert maritime law solicitor.

Visit our maritime law pages to learn more about this subject.

The Hague Visby rules

The official title for the Hague Visby rules is the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law relating to Bills of Lading.

Bills of Lading are documents used by goods transporters to transfer and record title in goods being sent overseas - a literal meaning would be a ‘receipt of loading’. The original rules were drafted in Brussels in 1924, and amended in 1968 to become the Hague Visby rules. These were finally amended in 1979.

Maritime lawyers will testify that the basic premise of Hague Visby is that a carrier of goods has far greater bargaining power than the shipper or sender of the goods. In order to protect the interests of the shipper and cargo owners, the law has been designed to impose minimum obligations on the shipper. These include:

  • Properly handling, loading and caring for the cargo
  • Ensuring the ship is seaworthy and properly manned
  • Navigating according to the decided route, unless a deviation is necessary according to the laws of the sea

There are some defences and exceptions. Shipping is inherently dangerous, even with proper preparation, and damage to the goods caused by acts of God, warfare, piracy or fire may not breach the rules. Interestingly there is also an exemption for damage caused by the neglect of the ship’s master.

Breach of the Hague Visby rules is not the only claim available to shippers however. If you are unsure about any aspect of the Hague Visby rules or maritime law in general, consult a maritime lawyer for expert legal advice.

Visit our commercial litigation pages to learn more about dispute resolution.

Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971

The Hague Visby rules were formally enacted into English law by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971. Under the rules, the carrier’s main duty is to properly and carefully load, handle, stow, carry, keep, care for and discharge goods carried, and to exercise due diligence in making the ship seaworthy.

The rules go on to state that no deviation from the agreed route is permissible unless it is to save life or on reasonable grounds.

The shipper or sender does have some obligations too, such as to ensure the freight is paid for, the goods are packed properly, and that they are described accurately and honestly. In the event of a dispute, it is important to be certain who is responsible for what and for this reason, clear advice is essential.

If you would like to obtain legal advice on the Hague Visby rules, Contact Law can put you in touch with a local shipping solicitor free of charge. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above to speak to an advisor.

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