The Standard P&I Club has issued a special guidance bulletin on the carriage of deck cargo, as it is considered to be inherently risky because the cargo is exposed to greater dangers than goods carried under deck.
Deck cargo is exposed to the elements and is subject to sea, spray and wind, as well as the additional risk of being washed or falling overboard. Carrying cargo on deck without the agreement of the shipper may result in a breach of the contract of carriage. Prior to carrying goods on deck, the owner/carrier should be fully satisfied that it is safe to carry such goods on deck, there is a universal custom or statutory requirement to do so, or the shipper has consented to such a carriage. If not, by carrying goods on deck, the owner/carrier may be in breach of the contract of carriage and its P&I cover may be prejudiced. Contracts of carriage often contain a liberty clause, seemingly allowing the carrier to carry cargo on deck. Such clauses are often ineffective in protecting owners/carriers in cases where cargo is carried on deck without prior agreement and should be treated with caution.
Guidelines for carriage of deck cargo
From a legal perspective, the guiding principles to consider when a ship is fixed to carry cargo on deck are as follows:
The carrier should have prior agreement from the shipper to place the goods on deck, or there must be a universal custom to do so for the cargo in question
The contract of carriage (most often the bill of lading) should clearly state that the goods are stowed on deck
The contract of carriage should include a clause allowing the carrier to carry goods on deck
The contract of carriage should set out the extent of the carrier’s liability for deck cargo we suggest all liability is excluded once on board, the carrier should ensure that deck cargo is secured in an appropriate manner and check lashings during the voyage.
Download the guidance note: Deck Cargo guidance