Q. Where do I sue?
A. Depends on what the contract says. If a jurisdiction is specified, you will be able to sue there. If contract says: ‘Suppliers’ terms and conditions apply’ those conditions may contain a jurisdiction clause that may determine where you can sue. If no jurisdiction clause in contract, consider place of supply, place where vessel supplied is flagged, contracting party’s principal place of business or ports on vessel’s trading route that permit in rem actions (i.e. actions against the ship itself or sister ships) or recognise maritime liens on vessel.
Q. Can I sue the shipowner?
A. Yes, if your contract is with the ship owner. But be careful – bunker supply contracts are frequently made through agents on behalf of charterers, the charterer being responsible under the c/p for fuelling the ship and if the contract is in fact with the charterer an action against the ship owner may fail, potentially exposing you to payment of owners’ costs. Check what your rights are in the jurisdiction in question before you commence proceedings.
Q. Can I arrest a ship?
A. Possibly, depending on whether you wish to arrest the ship supplied, a sister ship or an associated ship, where you are proposing to arrest and whether you have a valid claim against a vessel in that jurisdiction. Your rights will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so check the position carefully before commencing proceedings.
Q. Are law clauses the same as jurisdiction clauses?
A. No. Read the words of the relevant clause carefully, as in many jurisdictions they will be construed as meaning exactly what they say, no more, no less. Some clauses identify the law of the contract only. In such a case, although you may have a right to sue in the country whose law has been chosen, you may also be free to sue elsewhere. Similarly, the fact that a contract specifies a particular jurisdiction for the resolution of disputes does not mean that the law of that country will necessarily apply, although it will usually be taken to do so if no other law is specified. You are free, if you so wish, to specify that disputes shall be determined in country A but subject to the law of country B.