1st foreign lawyer in international dispute court here loses case

The first "offshore" case with an American lawyer appearing before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) here was settled earlier this month, with his client losing a US$28 million (S$39 million) spat.

The contractual dispute between the parties based in the United States and Singapore was recognised as an "offshore" case - paving the way for a foreign lawyer registered with the SICC to argue in the dispute.

US attorney Timothy Ross Lord showed up in court in February to defend US-based Teras Cargo Transport (America), which was being sued by Singapore-registered Teras Offshore for contract breach and non-payment.

Mr Lord is the first foreign-registered lawyer to appear in court here for an SICC case.

Both Teras Offshore and Teras Cargo Transport provide marine logistics services to the offshore oil and gas industry worldwide.

Teras Cargo had contracted with two US-based companies to provide tugs and barges, among other things, in relation to the transport of modules for a liquefied natural gas plant construction project in Curtis Island, off the Queensland coast in Australia.

It then sub-contracted the work to Teras Offshore on back-to-back terms under separate "parallel" sub-contracts.

Both the main contracts and sub-contracts required the supply of tugs and barges to transport modules from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines to Curtis Island.

Teras Offshore conveyed some 92 modules in 87 voyages to Curtis Island on time without losses. It sued Teras Cargo for back charges totalling US$24,500,178 and A$984,815 (S$1 million) involving its services.

Teras Cargo, through lawyer Rajkumar Mannar and Mr Lord, denied the claims, arguing that the main contracts and sub-contracts were "all-inclusive" and the work claimed for was within the existing contractual scope.

Lawyers Peter Doraisamy and Andrew Lee countered for Teras Offshore that the nearly US$25 million sought as "back charges" were reflected in the invoices issued to Teras Cargo, among other things.

SICC international judge Henry Bernard Eder ruled in judgment grounds that both sets of contracts were not all-encompassing, and there were specific areas of work excluded from the scope of work done by Teras Cargo under the main contract and, in turn, Teras Offshore under the sub-contracts.

Based on the evidence, he found that each of Teras Offshore's claims related to work that was "out of scope" of the contracts - such as removing grillages installed on the barges to fasten the modules during the journeys - which justified the claims.

He found that such work was carried out either by agreement between the parties or based on requests from Teras Cargo.

Noting that Teras Cargo had also admitted receiving a US$3.5 million advance from Teras Offshore in 2012, the judge ruled that Teras Offshore's claims succeeded fully.

The total sum payable for the claims amounted to some $38.8 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline '1st foreign lawyer in international dispute court here loses case'. Print Edition | Subscribe