Maritime Law: Carriage of Goods by Sea Act Fundamentals

Pratt's Energy Law Report

The author discusses the key differences between the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (“COGSA”), which defines the basic relationship between ocean carrier and cargo owner, and the Harter Act, which governs certain transactions that COGSA does not.

The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (“COGSA”) defines the basic relationship—duties, liabilities, rights, and immunities—between ocean carrier and cargo owner. COGSA was passed in the United States in 1936 and its enactment was the result of various concerns by Congress. In the early nineteenth century, carriers were strictly liable for cargo damage, with only few limited exceptions to liability for an act of God, public enemies, and inherent vices. By the second half of the nineteenth century, carriers began issuing bills of lading containing exculpatory clauses that sought to reduce or eliminate a carrier’s liability altogether.

Therefore, a compromise occurred in 1893 when Congress enacted the Harter Act, which sought to achieve uniformity in the rules of liability applied in international shipping and to strike a balance between carriers’ efforts to reduce liability and cargo owners’ efforts to impose liability regardless of fault. The Harter Act allowed carriers who furnished a seaworthy vessel and exercised due care with the cargo to be exempt from most liability. Currently, the Harter Act has not been repealed and does govern certain transactions where COGSA does not. Below is a detailed exploration of the key differences between the Harter Act and COGSA.

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“Maritime Law: Carriage of Goods by Sea Act Fundamentals,” by Vanessa C. DiDomenico was published in the April 2022 edition of Pratt’s Energy Law Report (Volume 22, Number 4), an A.S. Pratt Publication, LexisNexis. Reprinted with permission.

This article was first published in MAINBRACE: December 2021, Blank Rome's quarterly maritime newsletter.