The Super Servant II (J Lauritzen AS v Wijsmuller BV) [1990]

The Super Servant II (J Lauritzen AS v Wijsmuller BV) [1990]

J Lauritzen AS v Wijsmuller BV [1990] 1 Lloyd's Rep 1, also referred to as The Super Servant II, is a landmark decision in English contract law, specifically addressing the concept of frustration of contract.

The claimants, J Lauritzen AS, owned an oil drilling rig that the defendants, Wijsmuller BV, had contracted to transport from Japan to Rotterdam. The contract allowed the defendants to use either of two ships: The Super Servant One or The Super Servant Two. Due to prior commitments of The Super Servant One, the defendants opted to use the second ship. However, in July 1981, The Super Servant Two sank in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) while transporting another rig. The defendants argued that the contract had been frustrated since they were unable to fulfil their obligation to transport the drilling rig. The claimants contended that the impossibility of performance was self-induced, and therefore, the defendants should not be discharged from their contractual obligations.

The Court of Appeal, in rendering its judgment, ruled against the defendants, holding that they could not rely on the doctrine of frustration. The court determined that the sinking of The Super Servant Two did not constitute an unforeseeable event that would justify frustration. Importantly, the court found that the defendants' choice to use the second ship, despite being aware of its ongoing commitments, was a self-induced obstacle to performance. As a result, the impossibility of fulfilling the contract was not beyond the defendants' control.

The Court of Appeal's decision meant that the defendants were not discharged from their contractual obligations, and they were held responsible for the additional costs associated with transporting the oil drilling rig. This case sets a precedent in frustration of contract cases, emphasising that self-induced obstacles or events within the control of the party seeking relief may not be grounds for invoking the doctrine of frustration.
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