A man walks into a high-end boutique store and purchases a watch. Due to the high cost of the watch, the watch manufacturer offers all those who purchase a watch a warranty of quality. The warranty, usually given to the purchaser in black and white, tells the purchaser that if he or she follows the rules of the warranty and something happens to the watch, then the manufacturer will repair or replace the watch at no cost to the purchaser. To get the warranty, the purchaser must follow the rules to the letter. The warranty provides security and a feeling that the watch is of the highest quality.
Similarly, those who purchase a seafaring vessel give an implied warranty to the marine insurer that the vessel is seaworthy. This is called the implied warranty of seaworthiness. In slight contrast to the above example, the purchaser of a yacht implies this warranty to the insurer. The implied warranty of seaworthiness is not without controversy.
There is no exact definition of seaworthiness; facts and circumstances dictate whether a vessel is seaworthy. If a vessel is not seaworthy, a marine insurer can deny a claim from the owner.
Courts have found the following situations to be vessels that are not seaworthy:
- Lack of a bilge pump or other tools and equipment
- Defective gear
- Broken hand tools and other instruments/apparatus being in a state of disrepair
- Insufficient manpower assigned to perform a particular task
- Unfit crew members
- Improper methods of loading or storing cargo
- Unsafe work methods
Note that these deficiencies are both in the actual vessel and how the vessel is handled. Thus, a vessel can be the strongest ever built but still be unseaworthy because of a deficient crew or inefficient methods in running the ship.
Absolute Implied Warranty of Seaworthiness
The Absolute Implied Warranty of Seaworthiness is highly controversial and is a powerful tool used by marine insurers. This warranty encompasses both a warranty at the time it is loaded that the vessel is fit to carry the prescribed cargo. It also covers a warranty that the ship’s design, make-up, structure, equipment, and fit are all seaworthy. If the vessel is not fit and an accident occurs, the marine insurer has the right to deny coverage because the ship was not fit.
Relative Implied Warranty of Seaworthiness
The other implied warranty is relative, meaning that the vessel owner will not knowingly take the vessel to sea when it is not seaworthy. If the owner knows that there is some issue with the ship or knows that the ship is understaffed and still takes it out to sea, the insurance company can deny a claim in the event something happens.
Note that both of these warranties tend to be implied, which means that they are usually not in the insurance contracts. While these warranties have been challenged in court, courts have generally upheld these implied warranties.
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