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Colonial Cases

Fah Doong Engineering Co. v. Italo-Chinese River Navigation Co., 1939


Fah Doong Engineering Co. v. Italo-Chinese River Navigation Co.

Italian Consular Court, Shanghai
Source: The North China Herald, 10 May 1939



Claim Against Shipping Co.


   COUNSEL: Messrs. J. Barraud and P. Tierni for plaintiffs and Dr. A. Albini for the defence.

Before Judge R. Rapex.

(Judgment for defendants.)

   A case which has raised considerable comment in local shipping circles was finally brought to a close yesterday when the Royal Italian Consular Court delivered judgment in the case brought by Messrs. Fah Doong Engineering Co., a local Chinese shipbuilding firm, against the Italo-Chinese River Navigation Company.

   A Chinese firm in 1933 built a river steam boat for another Chinese firm, Messrs. Shing Wah, and at the time of delivery still alleged to have a credit of $40,000 in the construction price.  At the close of 1935 the ship was sold by its Chinese owners to the Italian Company and the transfer duly registered with the Italian authorities.

   The ship, however, was at the time lying in the Chungking harbour and before the Italian owners could take delivery, a dispute arose between some shareholders of the selling company and the ship was detained by the Szechuanese authorities. Thereafter, it appeared during the hearing the Italian authorities did everything possible to obtain the release of the boat and the former Italian Ambassador, Signor Lojacono, made a special trip to Nanking to confer with the Ministry of Communications.  The dispute was eventually settled in due course and the ship was allowed to leave Chungking.

   Although the plaintiffs in this action never made any claims upon the Italian company at that time the Italian company alleges now that, in April 1936, they were forced to sign an acknowledgment of debt as well as another contract according to which they were reselling to boat to its former owners.

   The unlucky steamer, after undergoing extensive repairs in the Shanghai dock, finally was able to resume navigation in January 1937, but a few months later struck a rock in the neighbourhood of Ichang and was sunk.  Subsequently salvage was undertaken and eventually the ship was refloated and towed to Ichang.

   During this period of four years the ship, although entered in the Italian registry, changed hands several times due to the losses suffered by its several owners, who in turn purchased and were then unable to pay the price.  Besides the transfer of property, it transpired during the proceedings that not less than four mortgages had to be taken on the ship at some time or other and that all these mortgages were still outstanding.

   At the beginning of 1939 the plaintiffs, Messrs. Fah Doong, obtained an order from the Italian Consular Court restraining the registered owner, Mr. G. F. Righini, from effecting further transfer of the ship, and two months later the proceedings were started to recover from him the amount of $30,000 which the plaintiffs claimed from Mr. Righini, stating that he owed this sum under the acknowledgment of debt signed in the year 1936. The defendant, who was represented at the hearing by Dr. A. Albini, contended that the document on which the claim was alleged to be based was fictitious and obtained under duress.  He further argued that, even assuming the genuineness of the document in question, still the same contained a clearly definite obligation which would entitle the plaintiffs to recovery.

   The plaintiffs, who were represented by Messrs. J. Barraud and P. Tierni, submitted copious evidence, and lengthy briefs covering the history of the ship were exchanged during the two years of the case.  The matter was  finally brought to a close yesterday when Judge Rapex dismissed the plaintiffs' claim and ordered them to repay all costs and attorneys' fees.

   It was the Court's judgment that in spite of the strong presumption in favour of counsel's allegations that the document produced by plaintiffs was obtained under duress, the said document was not in itself sufficient to prove Mr. Righini's liability and in fact excluded it.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School