FACTS: On December 19, 1987, motor tanker MT Vector left Limay, Bataan, at about 8:00 p.m., enroute to Masbate, loaded with 8,800 barrels of petroleum products shipped by petitioner Caltex. MT Vector is a tramping motor tanker owned and operated by Vector Shipping Corporation, engaged in the business of transporting fuel products such as gasoline, kerosene, diesel and crude oil. During that particular voyage, the MT Vector carried on board gasoline and other oil products owned by Caltex by virtue of a charter contract between them. On December 20, 1987, at about 6:30 a.m., the passenger ship MV Doña Paz left the port of Tacloban headed for Manila with a complement of 59 crew members including the master and his officers, and passengers totaling 1,493 as indicated in the Coast Guard Clearance. The MV Doña Paz is a passenger and cargo vessel owned and operated by Sulpicio Lines, Inc. plying the route of Manila/ Tacloban/ Catbalogan/ Manila/ Catbalogan/ Tacloban/ Manila, making trips twice a week.
At about 10:30 p.m. of December 20, 1987, the two vessels collided in the open sea within the vicinity of Dumali Point between Marinduque and Oriental Mindoro. All the crewmembers of MV Doña Paz died, while the two survivors from MT Vector claimed that they were sleeping at the time of the incident. The MV Doña Paz carried an estimated 4,000 passengers; many indeed, were not in the passenger manifest. Only 24 survived the tragedy after having been rescued from the burning waters by vessels that responded to distress calls. Among those who perished were public school teacher Sebastian Cañezal (47 years old) and his daughter Corazon Cañezal (11 years old), both unmanifested passengers but proved to be on board the vessel. On March 22, 1988, the board of marine inquiry in BMI Case No. 653-87 after investigation found that the MT Vector, its registered operator Francisco Soriano, and its owner and actual operator Vector Shipping Corporation, were at fault and responsible for its collision with MV Doña Paz.
On February 13, 1989, Teresita Cañezal and Sotera E. Cañezal, Sebastian Cañezal’s wife and mother respectively, filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 8, Manila, a complaint for “Damages Arising from Breach of Contract of Carriage” against Sulpicio Lines, Inc. (hereafter Sulpicio). Sulpicio, in turn, filed a third party complaint against Francisco Soriano, Vector Shipping Corporation and Caltex (Philippines), Inc. Sulpicio alleged that Caltex chartered MT Vector with gross and evident bad faith knowing fully well that MT Vector was improperly manned, ill-equipped, unseaworthy and a hazard to safe navigation; as a result, it rammed against MV Doña Paz in the open sea setting MT Vector’s highly flammable cargo ablaze.
ISSUE: WON THE CHARTERER/SHIPPER IS LIABLE FOR BREACH OF WARRANTY OF SEAWORTHINESS.
HELD: NO. A charter party is a contract by which an entire ship, or some principal part thereof, is let by the owner to another person for a specified time or use; a contract of affreightment is one by which the owner of a ship or other vessel lets the whole or part of her to a merchant or other person for the conveyance of goods, on a particular voyage, in consideration of the payment of freight.
A contract of affreightment may be either time charter, wherein the leased vessel is leased to the charterer for a fixed period of time, or voyage charter, wherein the ship is leased for a single voyage. In both cases, the charter-party provides for the hire of the vessel only, either for a determinate period of time or for a single or consecutive voyage, the ship owner to supply the ship’s store, pay for the wages of the master of the crew, and defray the expenses for the maintenance of the ship.
Under a demise or bareboat charter on the other hand, the charterer mans the vessel with his own people and becomes, in effect, the owner for the voyage or service stipulated, subject to liability for damages caused by negligence. prLL
If the charter is a contract of affreightment, which leaves the general owner in possession of the ship as owner for the voyage, the rights and the responsibilities of ownership rest on the owner. The charterer is free from liability to third persons in respect of the ship.
Second: MT Vector is a common carrier
Charter parties fall into three main categories: (1) Demise or bareboat, (2) time charter, (3) voyage charter. Does a charter party agreement turn the common carrier into a private one? We need to answer this question in order to shed light on the responsibilities of the parties.
In this case, the charter party agreement did not convert the common carrier into a private carrier. The parties entered into a voyage charter, which retains the character of the vessel as a common carrier.
Under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act:
SECTION 3. (1) The carrier shall be bound before and at the beginning of the voyage to exercise due diligence to —
(a) Make the ship seaworthy;
(b) Properly man, equip, and supply the ship;
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Thus, the carriers are deemed to warrant impliedly the seaworthiness of the ship. For a vessel to be seaworthy, it must be adequately equipped for the voyage and manned with a sufficient number of competent officers and crew. The failure of a common carrier to maintain in seaworthy condition the vessel involved in its contract of carriage is a clear breach of its duty prescribed in Article 1755 of the Civil Code.
The provisions owed their conception to the nature of the business of common carriers. This business is impressed with a special public duty. The public must of necessity rely on the care and skill of common carriers in the vigilance over the goods and safety of the passengers, especially because with the modern development of science and invention, transportation has become more rapid, more complicated and somehow more hazardous. For these reasons, a passenger or a shipper of goods is under no obligation to conduct an inspection of the ship and its crew, the carrier being obliged by law to impliedly warrant its seaworthiness.
This aside, we now rule on whether Caltex is liable for damages under the Civil Code.
Caltex and Vector Shipping Corporation had been doing business since 1985, or for about two years before the tragic incident occurred in 1987. Past services rendered showed no reason for Caltex to observe a higher degree of diligence.
Clearly, as a mere voyage charterer, Caltex had the right to presume that the ship was seaworthy as even the Philippine Coast Guard itself was convinced of its seaworthiness. All things considered, we find no legal basis to hold petitioner liable for damages.
As Vector Shipping Corporation did not appeal from the Court of Appeals’ decision, we limit our ruling to the liability of Caltex alone. However, we maintain the Court of Appeals’ ruling insofar as Vector is concerned.