Carriage of Deck Cargo at Sea: General Guidelines for General Cargo Ships

Unless expressly stated in the bill of lading, charter party, or sea waybill, cargoes listed in the contract of carriage as being carried on deck (and actually stowed on deck) will not be protected by the Hague-Visby Rules.

Types of Deck Cargo:

  • Timber Deck Cargo
  • Containers
  • Vehicles
  • Livestock
  • Dangerous Goods
  • Heavy Lifts and Locomotives
  • Industrial Boilers and Heavy Machinery

When shipping deck cargo, the shipper must enter into a separate contract with the carrier. Since there are no special rules governing deck cargo, the carrier is free to include exceptions from liability in the “on deck” bill of lading. Typically, this means that the deck cargo will be carried on deck “at the shipper’s risk,” absolving the carrier of any liability for loss or damage, regardless of the cause.

If goods are stowed on deck with the shipper’s agreement, the carrier (or the master or agent on their behalf) should issue a bill of lading explicitly stating that the goods are being carried on deck. This can be indicated through a “STOWED ON DECK” endorsement on the face of the bill, ensuring there is no ambiguity regarding the special risks associated with the carriage.

Cargo carried on deck without explicit mention in the bill of lading or waybill, as well as cargo stated as being carried on deck but actually carried below deck, will be subject to the rules.

Causes of Loss of Deck Cargo:

  • Severe adverse weather conditions
  • Failure to comply with guidelines, rules, and recommendations
  • Insufficient or inadequate lashing
  • Failure of securing materials
  • Improper stowage of deck cargo

Stowage of Deck Cargo:

1. Excessive loading on deck should be avoided, considering the strength of the deck and integrated supporting structures of the ship.

2. The vessel must maintain adequate stability throughout the voyage.

3. The water-tight integrity of the ship should not be compromised by deck loading (sounding pipes, air pipes, and ventilators should be protected).

4. The height of deck cargo should not obstruct navigational visibility.

5. Deck cargoes should not interfere with the normal working and maintenance of the ship.

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