The Hague Rules represented the first attempt by the international community to find a workable and uniform means of dealing with the problem of shipowners regularly excluding themselves from all liability for loss or damage of cargo. The objective of the Hague Rules has to establish a minimum mandatory liability of carriers which could be derogated from.
Under the Hague Rules the shipper bears the cost of lost/damaged goods if they cannot prove that the vessel was unseaworthy, improperly manned or unable to safely transport and preserve the cargo, i.e. the carrier can avoid liability for risks resulting from human errors provided they exercise due diligence and their vessel is properly manned and seaworthy. These provisions have frequently been the subject of discussion between shipowners and cargo interests on whether they provide an appropriate balance in liability.
The Hague Rules form the basis of national legislation in almost all of the world's major trading nations, and probably cover more than 90 per cent of world trade. The Hague Rules have been updated by two protocols, but neither addressed the basic liability provisions, which remain unchanged.