The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
This case dealt with a claim for wages of a ship’s crew members for having been kept hostage by Somali pirates. This case illustrated the similarities between Indian and South African maritime law.
The crisp issue before this court was whether at the time of the second appellant’s arrest at the respondent’s instance, there existed a maritime lien for crew’s wages entitling the respondent to arrest the second appellant by way of an in rem arrest in terms of s 3(4)(a) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Regulation Act. The court held that a maritime lien is a maritime claim that constitutes one of the bases upon which a claimant may found an action in rem. It also confers a certain preference in ranking of claims.
The court considered the two-pronged enquiry into the existence of a maritime lien, Firstly, on a prima facie basis, whether the respondent had established the existence and nature of the claims sought to be enforced in rem against the second appellant. Secondly, the court had to determine whether the respondent prima facie established claims which, by reason of their nature and character, were protected by maritime lien in South African law.
The court was satisfied that there was no obligation on the second appellant to pay crew’s wages as these payments. The court reasoned that there had been a supervening event that caused the fulfillment of the crew’s employment contracts impossible. Therefore, there was no claim for unpaid wages giving rise to a maritime lien enforceable by an action in rem. Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal and ordered that the deemed arrest be set aside.
The essence of the suit was an alleged unjustified refusal by the first defendant to berth resulting in alleged loss to the plaintiff and attaching demurrage charges.
The issue was whether the first defendant deliberately refused to berth a ship, and the court found in the affirmative. The court went on to look at if the refusal was justified. The court found that the master’s refusal to berth was based on unfounded grounds resulting in a two week delay. It was on that basis that the court held that the first and second defendants had not been wrongly sued.
The other issue was whether there was delay in offloading the consignment and whether the plaintiff suffered economic loss. These losses were in a form of demurrage charges, drop in sales as a result of closure of the factory, salaries to workers and bank charges. The court relied on the principle of general damages which states that damages in law presumes follow from the type of wrong complained of. General damages do not need to be specifically have been sustained.
In the result, the suit succeeded and the plaintiff was awarded damages.