G.R. No. 188118. November 23, 2015 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title: Federal Phoenix Assurance Co., Ltd. vs. Fortune Sea Carrier, Inc.

### Facts:

The case began with an agreement on March 9, 1994, where Fortune Sea agreed to lease its vessel, M/V Ricky Rey, to Northern Mindanao Transport Co., Inc. (Northern Transport) under a Time Charter Party agreement for 90 days, which was later extended for another 90 days. Northern Transport ordered 2,069 bales of abaca fibers to be shipped on this vessel from Manila Hemp Trading Corporation to Newtech Pulp Inc. in Iligan City. This shipment was insured by Federal Phoenix Assurance Co., Ltd.

Upon the vessel’s arrival at Iligan City on June 16, 1994, and while discharging the cargo, stevedores noticed smoke coming out from the cargo haul containing the abaca bales on June 18, resulting in damage to 60 bales. Newtech filed an insurance claim with Federal Phoenix, which paid P162,419.25 for the losses. Federal Phoenix then sought to recover this amount from Fortune Sea, which refused to settle the claim. This led Federal Phoenix to file a Complaint for Sum of Money against Fortune Sea at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati.

The RTC ruled in favor of Federal Phoenix, ordering Fortune Sea to pay P260,000.00 as actual damages, attorney’s fees, and costs of suit. Fortune Sea’s motion for reconsideration was denied, prompting an appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA), which reversed the RTC’s decision, leading to the filing of this Petition for Review on Certiorari by Federal Phoenix with the Supreme Court.

### Issues:

1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred in declaring Fortune Sea, originally a common carrier, as a private carrier due to the charter party agreement with Northern Transport.
2. Whether the nature of the contract between Fortune Sea and Northern Transport was truly a Time Charter or a Bareboat Charter (Demise).

### Court’s Decision:

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals, affirming that the Time Charter Party agreement effectively converted M/V Ricky Rey into a private carrier for the duration of the lease to Northern Transport. The Court emphasized that the essence of the agreement, not its name, determines the nature of the contract. It highlighted provisions showing Northern Transport had operational control over the vessel and crew, making it a Bareboat Charter by nature. The testimony of Captain Alfredo Canon further confirmed that Northern Transport had exclusive control over the vessel’s navigation and command.

### Doctrine:

The Supreme Court reiterated the principle that the actual agreement terms, manifested by the parties’ conduct and the operational control over the leased vessel, determine whether a charter party agreement constitutes a Time Charter or a Bareboat Charter, regardless of how the parties label it. The decision established that a Time Charter Party could effectively convert a common carrier into a private carrier if it involves transferring complete possession, command, and navigation of the vessel to the charterer.

### Class Notes:

– **Common vs. Private Carrier:** A common carrier offers its services to the public under the authority of the government, subject to stricter liability for damages. In contrast, a private carrier enters into specific contracts for its services, with liabilities defined by those contracts.
– **Bareboat Charter (Demise Charter):** Transfers full possession, command, and navigation of the vessel to the charterer, effectively making the charterer the ship’s temporary owner.
– **Time Charter:** The vessel owner provides crew and provisions, while the charterer decides the ports of call and cargo. The actual control over the vessel can shift the nature of the charter.

### Historical Background:

This case underscores the importance of clearly understanding and documenting the nature of charter agreements in maritime law. It illustrates the shifting responsibilities and liabilities tied to the status of the carrier – common or private – determined by the specifics of the charter party agreement. This decision is a significant reference point for future cases involving disputes in maritime transport agreements, emphasizing the substance over the form of contracts in the maritime industry.


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