FACTS: On February 19, 1972, the Manila Bay Lighterage Corporation (Manila Bay) a common carrier, entered into a contract with the petitioners whereby the former would load and carry on board its barge Mable 10 about 422.18 cubic meters of logs from Malampaya Sound, Palawan to North Harbor, Manila. The petitioners insured the logs against loss for P100,000.00 with respondent Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corporation (Pioneer).

On February 29, 1972, the petitioners loaded on the barge, 811 pieces of logs at Malampaya Sound, Palawan for carriage and delivery to North Harbor, Port of Manila, but the shipment never reached its destination because Mable 10 sank with the 811 pieces of logs somewhere off Cabuli Point in Palawan on its way to Manila. As alleged by the petitioners in their complaint and as found by both the trial and appellate courts, the barge where the logs were loaded was not seaworthy such that it developed a leak. The appellate court further found that one of the hatches was left open causing water to enter the barge and because the barge was not provided with the necessary cover or tarpaulin, the ordinary splash of sea waves brought more water inside the barge.

On March 8, 1972, the petitioners wrote a letter to Manila Bay demanding payment of P150,000.00 for the loss of the shipment plus P100,000.00 as unrealized profits but the latter ignored the demand. Another letter was sent to respondent Pioneer claiming the full amount of P100,000.00 under the insurance policy but respondent refused to pay on the ground that its liability depended upon the “Total loss by Total Loss of Vessel only”. Hence, petitioners commenced Civil Case No. 86599 against Manila Bay and respondent Pioneer.

In their first assignment of error, the petitioners contend that the implied warranty of seaworthiness provided for in the Insurance Code refers only to the responsibility of the shipowner who must see to it that his ship is reasonably fit to make in safety the contemplated voyage.

The petitioners state that a mere shipper of cargo, having no control over the ship, has nothing to do with its seaworthiness. They argue that a cargo owner has no control over the structure of the ship, its cables, anchors, fuel and provisions, the manner of loading his cargo and the cargo of other shippers, and the hiring of a sufficient number of competent officers and seamen.

ISSUE: 

A. WON the implied warranty of seaworthiness provided for in the Insurance Code refers only to the responsibility of the shipowner who must see to it that his ship is reasonably fit to make in safety the contemplated voyage.

B. WON the loss of the cargo was due to the perils of the sea.

C. WON there was barratry on the part of the crew/officers

HELD: 

A. NO. From the above-quoted provisions, there can be no mistaking the fact that the term “cargo” can be the subject of marine insurance and that once it is so made, the implied warranty of seaworthiness immediately attaches to whoever is insuring the cargo whether he be the shipowner or not.

As we have ruled in the case of Go Tiaoco y Hermanos v. Union Insurance Society of Canton (40 Phil. 40):

“The same conclusion must be reached if the question be discussed with reference to the seaworthiness of the ship. It is universally accepted that in every contract of insurance upon anything which is the subject of marine insurance, a warranty is implied that the ship shall be seaworthy at the time of the inception of the voyage. This rule is accepted in our own Insurance Law (Act No. 2427, sec. 106). . . .”

Moreover, the fact that the unseaworthiness of the ship was unknown to the insured is immaterial in ordinary marine insurance and may not be used by him as a defense in order to recover on the marine insurance policy.

As was held in Richelieu and Ontario Nav. Co. v. Boston Marine, Inc., Co. (136 U.S. 406):

“There was no lookout, and both that and the rate of speed were contrary to the Canadian Statute. The exception of losses occasioned by unseaworthiness was in effect a warranty that a loss should not be so occasioned, and whether the fact of unseaworthiness were known or unknown would be immaterial.”

Since the law provides for an implied warranty of seaworthiness in every contract of ordinary marine insurance, it becomes the obligation of a cargo owner to look for a reliable common carrier which keeps its vessels in seaworthy condition. The shipper of cargo may have no control over the vessel but he has full control in the choice of the common carrier that will transport his goods. Or the cargo owner may enter into a contract of insurance which specifically provides that the insurer answers not only for the perils of the sea but also provides for coverage of perils of the ship.

B. NO. On the contention of the petitioners that the trial court found that the loss was occasioned by the perils of the sea characterized by the “storm and waves” which buffeted the vessel, the records show that the court ruled otherwise. It stated:

xxx xxx xxx

” . . . The other affirmative defense of defendant Lighterage, ‘That the supposed loss of the logs was occasioned by force majeure . . . .’, was not supported by the evidence. At the time Mable 10 sank, there was no typhoon but ordinary strong wind and waves, a condition which is natural and normal in the open sea. The evidence shows that the sinking of Mable 10 was due to improper loading of the logs on one side so that the barge was tilting on one side and for that it did not navigate on even keel; that it was no longer seaworthy that was why it developed leak; that the personnel of the tugboat and the barge committed a mistake when it turned loose the barge from the tugboat east of Cabuli point where it was buffeted by storm and waves, while the tugboat proceeded to west of Cabuli point where it was protected by the mountain side from the storm and waves coming from the east direction. . . .”

In fact, in the petitioners’ complaint, it is alleged that “the barge Mable 10 of defendant carrier developed a leak which allowed water to come in and that one of the hatches of said barge was negligently left open by the person in charge thereof causing more water to come in”, and that “the loss of said plaintiffs’ cargo was due to the fault, negligence, and/or lack of skill of defendant carrier and/or defendant carrier’s representatives on barge Mable 10.” LexLib

It is quite unmistakable that the loss of the cargo was due to the perils of the ship rather than the perils of the sea. The facts clearly negate the petitioners’ claim under the insurance policy.

C. NONE. Barratry as defined in American Insurance Law is “any willful misconduct on the part of master or crew in pursuance of some unlawful or fraudulent purpose without the consent of the owners, and to the prejudice of the owner’s interest.” (Sec. 171, U.S. Insurance Law, quoted in Vance, Handbook on Law of Insurance, 1961, p. 929.)

Barratry necessarily requires a willful and intentional act in its commission. No honest error of judgment or mere negligence, unless criminally gross, can be barratry. (See Vance on Law of Insurance, p. 929 and cases cited therein.)

In the case at bar, there is no finding that the loss was occasioned by the willful or fraudulent acts of the vessel’s crew. There was only simple negligence or lack of skill. Hence, the second assignment of error must likewise be dismissed.

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