Tension between vessel and arrastre operator
One of the hotly disputed issues in maritime cases is the liability of the vessel and arrastre operator. Who should be responsible for damaged cargo, if damages occurred during possession of the cargo by the arrastre operator?
The plaintiffs lawyers claim that the arrastre operator acts as an agent of the vessel in the discharging of the cargo, because the vessel “hired” the arrastre operator for discharging. Now is an arrastre operator really “hired” by the vessel?
Yes and no.
Yes, because there are formalities observed on the engagement of the arrastre operator’s services by the vessel, so in this sense, the vessel “hires” the arrastre operator.
No, because in each port there is only one arrastre operator; there is a monopoly in each port on arrastre services. So vessels have no choice but to “hire” the sole arrastre operator.
Oftentimes, the cargo suffers damage/loss only upon handling by the stevedores of the arrastre operator. Plaintiffs lawyers want the vessel to be responsible for the acts of the arrastre operator!
Plaintiffs lawyers reason out that the vessel’s responsibility over the cargo does not cease until receipt by its consignee; hence, since receipt by the arrastre is not yet receipt by the consignee, the vessel is still responsible for the cargo while being discharged by the arrastre operator.
Sadly, most trial courts agree with them. Though they don’t absolve the arrastre, they make the arrastre and vessel solidarily liable.