A UK admiralty court held that 12 hours’ notice of a change of tariff for berthing charges and other services in a port for a vessel that had been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic was not reasonable notice.  The regulation required “reasonable prior notice”.

The requirement of reasonable prior notice was not complied with because the email gave less than 12 hours’ notice and the letters gave no notice at all.  Less than 12 hours’ notice would not qualify as minimum practicable notice, let alone reasonable notice.  What is reasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case.  Here those circumstances included the fact that the vessel had already been laid over for a period of three months and that the pandemic had put many other vessels into the same position so that alternative berthing arrangements were not easily to be found.  The court said that reasonable notice in those circumstances would have been 28 days, a similar period allowed in one of the other regulations for payment of the charges levied.  The notices were still be enforceable but only after 28 days.

As stated by the court this is a factual enquiry.  One of the facts is the time it would take to make alternative arrangements.  Normally in South Africa a bad notice is treated as void.  It is sometimes more sensible to read the notice as giving the required reasonable notice rather than being ignored altogether.

P&O Princess Cruises International Limited v The Demise Charterers of the vessel “Columbus” [2021] EWHC113 (Admlty)