Professor Charles Debattista
Call: 1978
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  • “Charles Debattista draws praise for his deep expertise in international trade disputes and often acts for large commodity houses, with peers speaking highly of his work in the space.” (Who's Who Legal: UK Bar 2018)
  • "Quick and sharp. He is able to think out of the box and provide solutions to novel issues." (Chambers & Partners 2018)
  • "A guru in the commodities field and always a first port of call on novel points.’ ‘Very user-friendly." (Legal 500 2017)
  • A leading expert dry shipping and international trade dispute. A peer notes, “he has built up a very good practice and one should view him as being like a QC for all his years of experience.” (Who’s Who Legal 2017)
  • 'He is able to immediately home in on what is important and give the matter his full and undivided attention. He is totally dedicated to his brief and one feels that one is in a very safe pair of hands.' (Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2016)
  • 'A very fluent advocate with a superb knowledge of the law.' (Legal 500 2016)
  • 'Able to immediately hone in on what is important and give each case his full and undivided attention.' (Legal 500 2016)
  • Commended for a varied practice in which he is equally comfortable as an advocate, adviser or arbitrator. "He thinks outside the box, and always comes up with clever solutions." (Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2016)
  • 'He has a thorough knowledge of the law and a willingness to help.' (Legal 500 2015)
  • 'Academically brilliant and well respected.' (Legal 500 2015)
  • 'He was elegantly aggressive in putting forward his case.' (Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2015)
  • 'He was very quick in amending his strategy to get aligned with the evolving situation.' (Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2015)
  • 'Very thorough and efficient' (Legal 500 2014)
  • 'Has a good manner with clients and deals with them in a way that inspires confidence.' (Legal 500 2014)
  • 'extremely well-known and respected for Fosfa and Gafta arbitrations.' (Legal 500 2013)

Charles Debattista has a busy and successful practice, both as an advocate and as an arbitrator, in dry shipping and international trade disputes, in which areas he also has a thriving advisory practice.

He has had extensive experience in charterparty work, bills of lading, cif and fob disputes, letters of credit, ship management issues and general commercial contract disputes.

Recent advocacy work

  • Currently representing shipowners in an appeal to the Court of Appeal, challenging cargo-interests' title to sue in litigation raising issues of limitation of liability under the Hague-Visby Rules.
  • Currently representing a charterer on a $50 million claim on a 17 year long term bareboat charterparty dispute.
  • Represented shipowners in a Part 86 Stakeholder/Interpleader trial, obtaining a Court Order for the discharge and sale of the goods to which seven cargo interests laid conflicting claims.
  • Represented sellers of dry commodities in an LCIA arbitration raising complex issues of duress and the quantification of loss.
  • Led by Simon Rainey QC, represented sellers of edible oil in a lengthy FOSFA hearing involving the recovery of losses caused by the contamination of goods shipped in bulk.
  • Represented owners in an international arbitration involving the impact of the jurisdiction to lift the corporate veil on the operation of COGSA 1992.
  • Represented parties in two large multi-million dollar LMAA arbitrations involving several ship management contracts, initiating a section 68 and a section 69 challenge against one of the Awards in this matter.
  • Represented parties in a claim brought in an ad hoc arbitration, with Dubai as the seat, for USD12m under a contract for the supply of concrete for the construction of a major airport project in the Middle East, raising novel issues relating to the recovery of damages for loss of opportunity. Leading Henry Ellis of Stone Chambers, organized a very favourable settlement of the dispute in the early stages of the hearing.
  • Led by Paul Key QC of Essex Court Chambers, represented sellers in a two-week Fosfa arbitration hearing involving the long-term supply of edible oil to buyers in a Southern African state; the hearing involved issues relating to the interpretation of time-bars, the extension of shipment periods and waiver and estoppel.
  • Leading Sandra Healey, now of 7 KBW, represented a Ukrainian oil trader against a Swiss Bank in litigation arising out of a letter of credit raising issues relating to the extent of the fraud exception in letters of credit.
  • Represented a German party in a Gafta arbitration on a contract for the sale of barley involving issues relating to whether a variation to the contractual shipment period was unenforceable for lack of consideration and on grounds of duress; and also relating to breach of a Scott v Avery clause.
  • Represented parties in several Gafta and Fosfa arbitration hearings raising issues relating to prohibition of export arising from recent embargoes on grain in Ukraine.

Recent advisory work

  • Currently advising on a share transfer dispute in shipping companies worth in excess of $13 million.
  • Recently advised on potential liability for carrier in issuing switch bills of lading.
  • Recently provided Opinions to shipowners for use in a mediation in a dispute raising points relating to the relationship between the Hague-Visby Rules and the general rules of remoteness of damages and points relating to title to sue under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.
  • Recently provided an Opinion to shipowners on matters relating to the application of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.
  • Recently provided Opinions for use in foreign litigation by insurance brokers on a marine insurance policy involving the proper construction of a policy covering jack-up operations for drilling operations in Africa.
  • Provided an Opinion for use in foreign litigation on the construction of a laytime and demurrage clause when delay is caused by active hostilities in a war zone.
  • Advised on exposure of Owners under a Contract of Affreightment to liability for cargo claims brought by shippers taking bills of lading from sub-charterers and also on Owners' right to demurrage.
  • Provided an Opinion to a South American oil company for use in foreign litigation relating to the incorporation of charterparty terms into a bill of lading.
  • Prepared an Expert Opinion on the transfer of risk in a delivered contract and gave oral evidence before a civil jury in Houston Texas on a claim for damages caused by the loss of a multi-million dollar electrical generator entering the port of Houston.

Appointments as Arbitrator

Charles has taken appointments as arbitrator since 2002 and regularly sits under LMAA, LCIA and ICC Rules and also in ad hoc arbitrations. Charles has sat as sole arbitrator, as chairman of tribunals and as a party-appointed arbitrator. Several of his Awards have been confirmed on reference up to the Courts and has yet to suffer a successful challenge. Charles is a member of the Shanghai International Arbitration Center’s (SHIAC) panel of foreign arbitrators.


Charles has written prolifically in his areas of expertise, and is closely associated with the drafting and development of COGSA 1992, Incoterms 2000 and 2010, the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (the UCP 600) and the Singapore Sales Form.

His writing has frequently been cited in courts in the UK, for example in:

  • Profindo Pte Ltd v Abani Trading Pte Ltd 2013 SGHC 10, Court of Appeal, Singapore.
  • AP Moller-Maersk v Sonaec Villas [2011] 1 Lloyd's Rep 1 on straight bills of lading.
  • The Mercini Lady [2009] 2 Lloyd's Rep 679 on certificate final clauses.
  • The Rafaela S [2005] 1 Lloyd's Rep 347 on straight bills of lading.
  • Uco Bank v Golden Shore Transportation [2005] SGCA 42, Singapore Court of Appeals, on the endorsement of bills of lading.
  • The Starsin [2003] 1 Lloyd's Rep 371 on the identity of the carrier in cargo claims.

Major publications include:

  • Ship Sales and the Singapore Sale Form [with F. Lorenzon], Lexis-Nexis, 2013
  • Maritime Law, Sweet and Maxwell, (3rd Ed 2017) co-author
  • Transfer of Property in International Sales (ICC-Paris, 2010), co-author
  • The Rotterdam Rules: A Practical Annotation, Informa 2009, co-author
  • Bills of Lading in Export Trade, Tottel Publishing, third edition January 2009 (4th Ed in preparation)
  • Halsbury's Laws of England, vol 4, Carriage and Carriers; November 2008
  • Halsbury's Laws of England, vol 41, Sale of Goods and Supply of Services, 2005
  • Halsbury's Laws of England, vol. 43(2), Shipping and Navigation, 1997, with Hardy Ivamy
  • Education

After a disciplined education at grammar school in Malta, enjoyed a rather free-er Quaker atmosphere at boarding school outside Reading on a Commonwealth-funded scholarship, after which back to the rigour of a Civil Law education at the Royal University of Malta (as it then was), graduating LL.D. in 1977, and then on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar at St Edmund Hall (B.A Jurisprudence, 1979 and M.A. in 1983). All thoroughly enjoyable, if diverse, experiences.


Charles is a member of the Baltic Exchange, of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, of the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration, of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre and a Supporting Member of the London Maritime Arbitrators Association. In a previous life, Charles was a Professor of Commercial Law and Director of the Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Southampton. He is now a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Laws at University College London.