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York-Antwerp Rules

A group of directives relating to uniform bills of lading and governing the settlement of maritime losses among the several interests, including ship and cargo owners.

Maritime law includes international agreements, national laws on shipping, and private agreements voluntarily adhered to by the parties involved in shipping contracts. The York-Antwerp Rules of General Average are the best known example of such private agreements, as they establish the rights and obligations of the parties when cargo must be jettisoned from a ship.

Under the law of general average, if cargo is jettisoned in a successful effort to refloat a grounded vessel, the owners of the vessel and the cargo saved are required to absorb a proportionate share of the loss, in order to compensate the owner of the cargo that has been singled out for sacrifice. All participants in the maritime venture contribute to offset the losses incurred. The law of general average became an early form of marine insurance.

The York-Antwerp Rules were first promulgated in 1890 and have been amended several times, most recently in 1994. They are the result of conferences of representatives of mercantile interests from many countries. The rules provide uniform guidelines on the law of general average that are included in private shipping agreements and depend upon their voluntary acceptance by the maritime community. These international rules ensure uniformity and determine the rights and obligations of the parties.

The rules are incorporated by reference into most bills of lading (documents given by a shipping company that list the goods accepted for transport and sometimes list the terms of the shipping agreement), contracts of affreightment (a contract with a ship owner to hire the ship, or part of it, for the carriage of goods), and marine insurance policies.

The York-Antwerp Rules attempt to cover many types of expenses associated with an imperiled ship. For example, the rules provide for recovery by the ship owner of the costs of repair, loading and unloading cargo, and maintaining the crew, if these expenses are necessary for the safe completion of the voyage. Claims are generally made against the insurer of the cargo and the ship owner's insurance underwriters.


Donaldson, Sir John. 1975. The Law of General Average and the York-Antwerp Rules. 10th ed. London: Stevens.

Fernandez, Charles and Anthony. 1999. "Interpreting the Rule of Interpretation in the York-Antwerp Rules." Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce 30 (July).

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