The 'United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea' – or 'Rotterdam Rules' – was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 11 December 2008.
The Rotterdam Rules extend and modernize the existing international rules relating to the contract of maritime carriage of goods. The aim is that the Convention will replace the Hague Rules, the Hague-Visby Rules and the Hamburg Rules and that it will achieve uniformity of law in the field of maritime carriage, as well as provide for modern industry needs in terms of door-to-door carriage. The Rotterdam Rules are the first rules governing the carriage of goods by sea and connecting or previous transport by land.
Like most international Conventions, the Rotterdam Rules represent a compromise.
The most significant changes compared to The Hague-Visby rules are to the benefit of cargo owners.
Some provisions of significant interest are the following:
- Article 12 of the Rotterdam Rules states that the period of responsibility of the carrier of the goods under the Convention "begins when the carrier or a performing party receives the goods for carriage and ends when the goods are delivered". The new Convention provides for door-to-door carriage where the Hague-Visby rules provide for a period of responsibility to govern the carriage of goods from loading on board until discharge.
- The Rotterdam Rules maintain a fault-based regime where it comes to the carrier's liability. The carrier is liable where cargo interests prove that the loss, damage or delay took place during the period of the carrier's responsibility. However the carrier is relieved if it can prove that the cause is not attributable to its fault (which includes servants) or falls within the scope of listed defenses, like for example fire and perils of the sea.
- The error of navigation exemption has been excluded, which from a practical point of view, significantly weakens the defenses available to the carrier, as it concerns an exemption which is frequently relied upon by carriers in practice.
- The obligation for the carrier to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy before and at the beginning of the voyage has been extended to also cover the voyage by the wording "during the voyage by sea" as included in article 14.
- The limits of liability have been increased. Compared to The Hague-Visby rules, the limits per kilogram have been increased from 2 up to 3 SDR, while the limit per package has been increased up to 875 SDR.
- The time limit for commencement of legal proceedings in respect of cargo claims has been extended up to 2 years from the date of delivery in the Rotterdam Rules.
- The Rotterdam Rules contain important changes regarding jurisdiction. Based on the principle that exclusive jurisdiction clauses may only be recognized if they meet the strict requirements of the Rotterdam Rules, jurisdiction may be found at the domicile of the carrier, the agreed place of receipt or delivery, or the place of the port where the goods are initially loaded or finally discharged.