The case arose from an importation made by Samar Mining Co. Inc. of 1 crate Optima welded wedge wire sieves through the M/S Schwabenstein, a vessel owned by Nordeutscher Lloyd, (represented in the Philippines by its agent, C.F. Sharp & Co., Inc.), which shipment is covered by Bill of Lading No. 18 duly issued to consignee Samar Mining. Upon arrival of the vessel at the port of Manila, the importation was unloaded and delivered in good order and condition to the bonded warehouse of AMCYL. The goods were however never delivered to, nor received by, the consignee at the port of destination — Davao. When the letters of complaint sent to Nordeutscher Lloyd failed to elicit the desired response, Samar Mining filed a formal claim for P1,691.93, the equivalent of $424.00 at the prevailing rate of exchange at that time, against the former, but neither paid.
Samar Mining filed a suit to enforce payment. Nordeutscher Lloyd and CF Sharp & Co. brought in AMCYL as third party defendant. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of Samar Mining, ordering Nordeutscher Lloyd, et. al. to pay the amount of P1,691.93 plus attorney’s fees and costs. However, the Court stated that Nordeutscher Lloyd, et. al. may recoup whatever they may pay Samar Mining by enforcing the judgment against third party defendant AMCYL, which had earlier been declared in default. Nordeutscher Lloyd and C.F. Sharp & Co. appealed from said decision.
The following are the pertinent ports, as provided in the bill of lading:
Port of Loading: Bremen, Germany
Port of discharge from ship: Manila
Port of destination/Port of discharge of the goods: Davao
As plainly indicated on the face of the bill, the vessel M/S Schwabenstein is to transport the goods only up to Manila. Thereafter, the goods are to be transshipped by the carrier to the port of destination.
Whether or not a stipulation in the bill of lading exempting the carrier from liability for loss of goods not in its actual custody (i.e., after their discharge from the ship) is valid.
It is clear that in discharging the goods from the ship at the port of Manila, and delivering the same into the custody of AMCYL, the bonded warehouse, appellants were acting in full accord with the contractual stipulations contained in Bill of Lading No. 18. The delivery of the goods to AMCYL was part of appellants' duty to transship (meaning to transfer for further transportation from one ship or conveyance to another) the goods from Manila to their port of destination-Davao.
The extent of appellant carrier's responsibility and/or liability in the transshipment of the goods in question are spelled out and delineated under Section 1, paragraph 3 of Bill of Lading No. 18, to wit: “the carrier shall not be liable in any capacity whatsoever for any delay, loss or damage occurring before the goods enter ship's tackle to be loaded or after the goods leave ship's tackle to be discharged, transshipped or forwarded”. Further, in Section 11 of the same bill, it was provided that “this carrier, in making arrangements for any transshipping or forwarding vessels or means of transportation not operated by this carrier shall be considered solely the forwarding agent of the shipper and without any other responsibility whatsoever even though the freight for the whole transport has been collected by him… Pending or during forwarding or transshipping the carrier may store the goods ashore or afloat solely as agent of the shipper…”
We find merits in Nordeutscher’s contention that they are not liable for the loss of the subject goods by claiming that they have discharged the same in full and good condition unto the custody of AMCYL at the port of discharge from ship — Manila, and therefore, pursuant to the aforequoted stipulation (Sec. 11) in the bill of lading, their responsibility for the cargo had ceased.The validity of stipulations in bills of lading exempting the carrier from liability for loss or damage to the goods when the same are not in its actual custody has been upheld by Us in PHOENIX ASSURANCE CO., LTD. vs. UNITED STATES LINES, 22 SCRA 674 (1968), ruling that “pursuant to the terms of the Bill of Lading, appellee's responsibility as a common carrier ceased the moment the goods were unloaded in Manila and in the matter of transshipment, appellee acted merely as an agent of the shipper and consignee”
In the present case, by the authority of the above pronouncements, and in conformity with the pertinent provisions of the Civil Code, Section 11 of Bill of Lading No. 18 and the third paragraph of Section 1 thereof are valid stipulations between the parties insofar as they exempt the carrier from liability for loss or damage to the goods while the same are not in the latter's actual custody.
Acareful perusal of the provisions of the New Civil Code on common carriers directs our attention to Article 1736, which reads: “The extraordinary responsibility of the common carrier lasts from the time the goods are unconditionally placed in the possession of, and received by the carrier for transportation until the same are delivered, actually or constructively, by the carrier to the consignee, or to the person who has a right to receive them, without prejudice to the provisions of article 1738.” In relation to this, Article 1738 provides: “the extraordinary liability of the common carrier continues to be operative even during the time the goods are stored in a warehouse of the carrier at the place of destination, until the consignee has been advised of the arrival of the goods and has had reasonable opportunity thereafter to remove them or otherwise dispose of them.”
Art. 1738 finds no applicability to the instant case. The said article contemplates a situation where the goods had already reached their place of destination and are stored in the warehouse of the carrier. The subject goods were still awaiting transshipment to their port of destination, and were stored in the warehouse of a third party when last seen and/or heard of. However, Article 1736 is applicable to the instant suit. Under said article, the carrier may be relieved of the responsibility for loss or damage to the goods upon actual or constructive delivery of the same by the carrier to the consignee, or to the person who has a right to receive them. There is actual delivery in contracts for the transport of goods when possession has been turned over to the consignee or to his duly authorized agent and a reasonable time is given him to remove the goods. In the present case, there was actual delivery to the consignee through its duly authorized agent, the carrier.
Lastly, two undertakings are embodied in the bill of lading: the transport of goods from Germany to Manila, and the transshipment of the same goods from Manila to Davao, with Samar Mining acting as the agent of the consignee. The moment the subject goods are discharged in Manila, Samar Mining’s personality changes from that of carrier to that of agent of the consignee. Such being the case, there was, in effect, actual delivery of the goods from appellant as carrier to the same appellant as agent of the consignee. Upon such delivery, the appellant, as erstwhile carrier, ceases to be responsible for any loss or damage that may befall the goods from that point onwards. This is the full import of Article 1736.
But even as agent of the consignee, the appellant cannot be made answerable for the value of the missing goods. It is true that the transshipment of the goods, which was the object of the agency, was not fully performed. However, appellant had commenced said performance, the completion of which was aborted by circumstances beyond its control. An agent who carries out the orders and instructions of the principal without being guilty of negligence, deceit or fraud, cannot be held responsible for the failure of the principal to accomplish the object of the agency.