Nigel Eaton QC has a broad-based practice in domestic and international commercial disputes, with a particular focus on shipping, ship construction, international trade & commodities, insurance & reinsurance, energy-related disputes, and related areas. Described as “analytically brilliant and an excellent advocate”, Nigel has over 20 years’ experience before the English Courts, both at first instance (particularly in the Commercial Court) and appellate level, and before domestic and international arbitration tribunals, both ad hoc and institutional, including ICC, LCIA, LMAA, UNCITRAL, and FOSFA/GAFTA. He is ranked as a leading practitioner by professional directories, and rated as “an extraordinarily able black-letter lawyer” who “brings an intellectual rigour to cases” and is “client-friendly in his approach”.
Nigel’s shipping practice includes disputes under bills of lading, contracts of affreightment, time charters, voyage charters, and demise charters, and covers a full range of issues, including seaworthiness, cargo claims, hire and off-hire, unsafe ports, dangerous cargoes, and laytime & demurrage. He has extensive experience of disputes involving a wide range of both dry and liquid bulk cargoes, containerised cargoes, and a variety of vessel types, including bulk carriers, tankers, container ships, LNG carriers, rigs and specialised offshore vessels, ro-ro transporters, and fast ferries. Nigel has also acted in many shipbuilding disputes under SAJ and CMAC and other standard-forms and variants. He has experience of ship sale & purchase disputes under the Norwegian Saleform and other contract forms.
In international trade, Nigel acts in disputes under CIF, FOB and other forms of contract for the sale & purchase of a wide variety of goods, including oil, gas, chemicals, coal, steel, ores, grains and other foodstuffs, and other commodities,. His practice includes disputes about title, quality and rejection, price and price adjustment, frustration, and the impact of sanctions, and covers long-term and instalment contracts as well as one-off sales. Nigel also has considerable experience of disputes about financial instruments used in international trade, including guarantees, performance bonds, and letters of credit.
Nigel’s insurance & reinsurance experience covers both marine and non-marine business in areas including property, liability, P&I, and professional indemnity. He acts in disputes about coverage, construction of policies, avoidance, and causation and loss. Nigel has experience of political risks policies, including disputes relating to investments in a range of projects in Africa, China, South America, and other parts of the world. He was involved in litigation about the LMX spiral and claims brought by Lloyd’s names against underwriters and agents, and has acted in disputes about both proportional and non-proportional reinsurance.
In energy, Nigel’s experience includes disputes involving joint ventures, field and operating agreements, pipeline & transportation contracts, gas sale agreements, and electricity supply agreements. He has been involved in a number of cases about long term contracts for the supply of coal to power stations.
Nigel regularly deals with procedural and remedial matters which arise in litigation and arbitration, including jurisdiction challenges, disputes about applicable law and other conflicts of law issues, and injunctions and other interlocutory applications.
- What Others Say
Legal 500 UK Bar 2022, Shipping & Commodities:
“One of the leading QCs in the fields of shipping and commodities, he is very strong analytically and an incisive and persuasive advocate.”
Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2021, Shipping & Commodities:
“He is extremely thorough and an excellent advocate; he is very good at driving home points.”
Legal 500 UK Bar 2021, Commodities:
‘A highly intelligent and clear commercial barrister for shipping and commodities matters.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2021, Shipping:
‘One of the cleverest barristers at the commercial bar.’
Chambers UK Bar 2019, Shipping & Commodities:
‘Brilliant at analysis.’ ‘Thorough, measured and utterly reliable.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2018, Commodities:
‘A go-to silk for trading cases, he is able to cut through complex factual and legal issues to give concise and high-quality advice.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2018, Shipping:
‘He is very highly rated.’
Chambers UK Bar 2018, Shipping & Commodities:
‘Clever, hard-working and brilliant in court.’ ‘He’s got a mind like a razor. He is incredibly strong on analysis and first-rate at putting together complex arguments.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2017, Commodities:
‘Analytically brilliant and an excellent advocate.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2017, Shipping:
‘He wins cases by being completely on top of the facts and by presenting them clearly.’
Chambers UK Bar 2017, Shipping:
‘He is extremely methodical, and a very clear and clever advocate who is very composed. I use him on cases where we need to understand technical expert evidence. He has incredible attention to detail and is really strong analytically. He is an all-round impressive performer.’
Legal 500 2016, Commodities:
‘He brings an intellectual rigour to cases and is able to identify arguments others might not.’
Legal 500 2016, Shipping:
Chambers UK Bar 2016, Shipping & Commodities:
“He is an extraordinarily able black-letter lawyer whose analysis of contract law is superb. He is quiet, methodical, very user-friendly, and he produces first-rate written work. He knows how courts and tribunals approach a problem.”
Legal 500 2015, Commodities:
“He has a brilliant analytical mind, is very user-friendly, and understands how courts and tribunals think.”
Legal 500 2015, Shipping:
“Client-friendly in his approach.”
Chambers UK Bar 2015, Shipping & Commodities:
“He prepares thoroughly and makes sure all the points are covered.”
Legal 500 2014, Commodities:
“Very punchy and effective at making the best points.”
Chambers UK Bar 2014, Shipping & Commodities:
“Very strong on the insurance aspects of dry shipping disputes… He prepares his cases with considerable care and attention to detail, and exhibits great judgment.”
Legal 500 2013, Commodities:
“A very robust advocate, and not afraid to advance very difficult points.”
Chambers UK Bar 2013, Shipping & Commodities:
“Commended for his ‘nice manner with arbitrators’ and his strength at identifying worthwhile arguments.”
Chambers UK Bar 2012, Shipping & Commodities:
“Has made it his business to know both the concepts and the law better than his peers.”
- Examples of recent cases
Redelivery Dispute. Nigel appeared for shipowners at the hearing of their arbitration claim against a major South American oil company for damages for late redelivery at the end of a long-term tanker timecharter.
Guarantee Claim. Nigel is acting for parent company guarantors in a Commercial Court action which involves issues about whether a guarantee of demise charterers’ obligations under a bareboat charter of a floating storage and offloading facility is a traditional guarantee or a performance bond.
Ship Sale Arbitration. Nigel acts for sellers, under contracts on the 2012 Norwegian Saleform, of two offshore crane vessels in a dispute about termination of the contracts and liability for damages and the returns of the deposits.
Judgment Enforcement. Nigel acts for judgment debtors in ongoing litigation about whether a US$200 million judgment of the Courts of a central African country should be enforced in England & Wales.
Coal Dispute. Nigel is instructed by buyers in an arbitration about whether or not a cargo of South American coal shipped into Europe was off-specification, involving issues about the effects of a contractual certification clause, methods of sampling and testing, and quantification of damages.
Cargo Contamination Arbitration. Nigel acts for voyage charterers in a forthcoming arbitration claim against shipowners for damages for contamination of a cargo of fuel oil during carriage aboard a tanker.
Capstan Capital Partners v Rickmers (Lawtel, July 2017). Nigel appeared for Rickmers at trial, successfully defending a claim for fees claimed by financial consultants in relation to a project intended to raise funds on the international capital markets for investment in new container ships.
Offshore Supply Vessel Arbitration. Nigel acted for buyers of a highly-specialised anchor handing tug & supply vessel, appearing at the arbitration in which the Tribunal held that buyers had validly terminated the shipbuilding contract for delay and were entitled to a refund of c.US$19 million.
Ship Transaction Disputes. Nigel has been instructed in disputes concerning responsibility for employee liabilities under a group of contracts for sale of a fast-ferry operation and about whether or not the design for a ship wrongfully incorporates confidential technical information.
BP Gas Marketing v La Societe Sonatrach (Lawtel, October 2016). Nigel appeared for BP at the Commercial Court trial of its successful claim to recover a contribution to nitrogen costs under a Joint Shippers Agreement relating to liquefied natural gas cargoes imported into the UK at the Grain LNG terminal.
Shipbuilding Arbitrations. Nigel is acting for buyers in shipbuilding arbitrations focussing on whether the shaft and propeller arrangements for a series of bulk carriers were defective, with the consequence that buyers were entitled to reject the ships when builders tendered them for delivery. He appeared for buyers in successful claims for refunds after termination for delay of contracts construction and sale of a specialist dry cargo ship and of a bulk carrier, and acted in a late-delivery arbitration about a specialist offshore support vessel and in a dispute under a contract for the construction of a deep-sea trawler.
Charterparty Arbitrations. Nigel has been advising on the meaning and effect of an early termination clause in a series of charterparties between shipowners and charterers who subcharter to a South American national oil producer. He appeared for charterers in an LMAA arbitration about the termination of a tanker time charter, and has been involved in a dispute in relation to a voyage charter approvals clause.
Emissions Allowances. Nigel advised a major merchant bank about its legal position after it became the innocent purchaser of a batch of “stolen” EU emissions trading allowances.
Oil Sales Disputes. Nigel has acted (sometimes for buyers and sometimes for sellers) in a number of disputes arising under contracts for the sale of oil, involving issues including quality, shipment dates under FOB sales, and EU import qualification.
Contamination Arbitration. Nigel appeared at the hearing before a FOSFA Board of Appeal in a long-running arbitration about a cargo of vegetable oil which proved unfit for human consumption, causing widespread contamination within the food supply chain.
Coal Price Adjustment Arbitration. Nigel appeared in UNCITRAL arbitration for buyers under a long-term coal supply contract in a dispute about the interpretation and operation of a contractual price-adjustment mechanism.
Oil Exploration Arbitration. Nigel acted for the majority partners in an ICC arbitration under a production sharing agreement and a joint operating agreement in relation to a dispute with their partners about the progress of exploration for oil and gas reserves in East Africa.
Saipol SA v Inerco Trade  1 Lloyd’s Rep 26. Nigel appeared for buyers of contaminated vegetable oil on their successful appeal to the Commercial Court against the decision of a FOSFA Board of Appeal on questions of law relating to causation and loss.
The ‘LNG Gemini’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 113. Nigel appeared for charterers in successfully defending a claim that charterers had shipped an “injurious cargo”. The case was the first reported decision on the construction of the Shelltime “injurious cargo” clause, and was selected by i-law as one of the most noteworthy charterparty disputes of the year.
Novoship v Mikhaylyuk & Others. Nigel acted for one of the Defendants throughout the interlocutory stages of this large-scale litigation about of bribery and secret profits in relation to the chartering arrangements for a fleet of tankers.
Gas Field Arbitration. Nigel was part of the legal team representing one of the Defendants in a substantial ICC arbitration relating to balancing provisions in a consortium agreement for the operation of a South American gas field.
Oil Cargo Arbitrations. Nigel appeared for shipowners in an LMAA arbitration against charterers to recover expenses and loss of earnings after ships’ cargo tanks were left seriously contaminated by thick residues after carriage of oil cargoes.
Far East Chartering v Binani Cement  1 Lloyd’s Rep 637. Nigel was part of the Defendant’s legal team, at trial and in the Court of Appeal, in a claim brought by a shipowner against cargo interests under a letter of indemnity and the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.
Coal Supply Contract Arbitrations. Nigel acted for the buyer in an LCIA arbitration about whether or not a long-term coal supply contract had been varied by agreement.
Sanctions Cases. Nigel acted in a Commercial Court action about the impact on an oil sale contract of US and international sanctions against Iran, and advised on the effects on a coal supply contract of international sanctions against Russia in relation to the Ukraine crisis.
Political Risks Arbitration. Nigel was instructed in a coverage and avoidance dispute under a political risks insurance policy following expropriation of onshore drilling equipment by a foreign government.
- Arbitration & related court applications
A significant proportion of the cases in which Nigel is instructed take place in arbitration, and he has substantial experience of both ad hoc and institutional arbitrations involving a wide range of commercial disputes, including insurance, reinsurance, sale of goods, shipping, energy and other commercial agreements. He has acted in numerous LCIA and LMAA arbitrations in England, and in ICC and UNCITRAL arbitrations both in England and abroad. Recent experience includes LCIA arbitrations about political risks insurance, major bank loans to Russian entities, and long-term coal supply agreements; an UNCITRAL arbitration about a coal contract price adjustment mechanism; LMAA arbitrations relating to shipbuilding contracts, charterparties, and bills of lading; a FOSFA Board Of Appeal hearing about a contaminated cargo of vegetable oil; and ICC arbitrations about a South American gas field consortium and an East African oil and gas exploration project. Nigel regularly deals with applications under the Arbitration Act 1996, such as applications to stay legal proceedings, for the appointment/removal of arbitrators, for the exercise of judicial powers in support of arbitral proceedings, and for the correction of awards, as well as appeals from arbitration awards on points of law and challenges to awards for want of jurisdiction or on grounds of serious procedural irregularity. He has provided expert evidence on the 1996 Act for use in foreign courts in proceedings to enforce English arbitration awards.
- Banking & financial services
In the context of his international trade and commodities practice, Nigel often advises and acts in disputes under letters of credit, guarantees, performance bonds and other financial instruments. Notable cases include Solo Industries UK Ltd v Canara Bank  2 Lloyd’s Rep 578 (Commercial Court & Court Of Appeal) and Standard Bank London v Canara Bank (Commercial Court), concerning the effect of third-party fraud on guarantees, and Sucden Financial Ltd v Garcia (Commercial Court), on whether an instrument was a guarantee or a performance bond. Nigel has recently acted in a number of disputes relating to guarantees and performance bonds issued by banks and parent companies in relation to shipbuilding contracts, and in several arbitration claims by a bank to recover substantial unpaid loans from Russian interests. He has experience of applications to restrain payment under guarantees and performance bonds, and of claims by traders against brokers in relation to transactions on commodity exchanges.
- Commercial dispute resolution
In addition to his core practice areas, such as shipping, international trade, and insurance & reinsurance, Nigel advises and acts in commercial disputes involving a wide range of other subject matters. Notable examples include acting for accountants in long-running litigation arising out of a failed tax avoidance scheme; acting for the developer and manufacturer of an offshore drilling system following an accident in operation; representing one of the Defendants in Novoship v Mikhaylyuk & Others, concerning allegations of bribery and secret profits; appearing in a substantial LCIA arbitration about the theft of oil stocks in East Africa;, successfully representing a broker in litigation against a former client under a futures brokerage contract in Sucden v Fluxo-Cane  2 CLC 216; and The ‘Ekha’  1 All ER Comm 1077, long-running litigation in the Commercial Court and Court of Appeal about an offshore drilling contract. Nigel has recently appeared in litigation about the estate of a deceased Middle Eastern businessman; acted in a dispute between a financial consultant and a client about success fees; advised in a dispute about the transfer of a substantial importation and distribution contract; and acted in a dispute between a shipping conglomerate and a financial consultant in relation to attempts to raise major finance for investment in new container vessels.
- Conflict of laws & private international law
Cases in Nigel’s practice areas often involve questions of conflicts of law, and he frequently deals with choice of law and jurisdiction issues. Notable examples include Implants International v Stratec Medical  2 All ER (Comm) 933), concerning jurisdiction, and Mercedes Benz v Leiduck  AC 284, concerning the Court’s power to grant interim relief in aid of foreign proceedings. In Al-Sadi v Jender (Lawtel, 2011), Nigel successfully acted for a Liechtenstein corporation challenging the jurisdiction of the High Court in litigation about title to assets held in Switzerland. He has acted in cases involving choice of law issues in the assignment of guarantees and performance bonds, and acts in an ongoing case about enforcement in England & Wales of a central African judgment.
- Energy & natural resources
Nigel has experience of a range of energy-related disputes, including issues relating to field agreements, pipeline & transportation contracts, gas sale agreements, and electricity supply agreements. He was part of the Claimants’ legal team in the Commercial Court, Court of Appeal, and House of Lords in the Amoco v Teesside Gas Transportation Ltd  1 All ER (Comm) 865, concerning “take or pay” arrangements in the central area transmission system, and has experience of disputes relating to offshore drilling and exploration, including The ‘Ekha’  1 All ER Comm 1077 and litigation relating to a deep sea drill ship. Nigel has acted in LCIA arbitrations concerning long-term coal supplies to power plants; in a substantial ICC arbitration concerning balancing provisions in a consortium agreement for the operation of a South American gas field; and in a dispute under a production sharing agreement and joint operating agreement about exploration for oil and gas reserves in East Africa. Recently, he advised a major merchant bank which was the innocent purchaser of “stolen” EU emissions trading allowances and appeared in the Commercial Court for the claimant in BP Gas Marketing v Sonatrach in its successful claim to recover nitrogen costs under a Joint Shippers Agreement relating to the Grain LNG terminal.
- Insurance & reinsurance
Nigel has acted in many coverage, avoidance and liability disputes in both the marine and the non-marine field in a range of areas, including property, liability, P&I, and professional indemnity. He has experience of both the Lloyd’s and the companies markets. Notable cases include Arbuthnot v Feltrim Underwriting Agencies, in which Lloyd’s names sued underwriters and agents for losses on excess of loss business in the LMX spiral; The ‘Nukila’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 146, concerned with the meaning and effect of the “Inchmaree” Clause; and Hill v Citadel  LRLR 167, litigation about avoidance of a reinsurance treaty. Nigel has also acted in several arbitrations under political risks policies, including disputes relating to failure by the foreign government to pay for work on the reconstruction of oil facilities in Africa, foreign government intervention in the Argentine and Chinese power industries, and misappropriation of substantial stocks of fuel from state storage facilities in East Africa. More recently, he acted in litigation concerning the constructive total loss of a drilling rig while under tow; in a claim under a Directors & Officers policy; in a political risks dispute about foreign government expropriation of onshore drilling equipment; and in a non-disclosure dispute relating to an accountancy firm’s professional indemnity insurance.
- International trade, transport & commodities
Cases relating to the sale & purchase, supply, and transportation of a wide range of goods and commodities form a significant part of Nigel’s practice. He has substantial experience of disputes about title, quality and rejection, price and price adjustment, frustration, and the impact of sanctions, in relation to a range of goods, including oil, coal, ore and other commodities, and grains and other foodstuffs, and has acted in cases under CIF, FOB and DES contracts, as well as contracts based on other INCOTERMS. Cases include an arbitration involving allegations of frustration and force majeure in relation to a long-term contract for carriage of ore from South America to China; Commercial Court litigation about the delivery of off-specification oil; a series of trade arbitrations, and related applications to the Commercial Court, about widespread contamination of vegetable oil; disputes about the effect on sales contracts of US and international sanctions relating to Libya and Russia; and arbitrations under coal supply contracts, including claims relating to Global Coal’s SCOTA contract form. More recently, Nigel has acted in a number of disputes under contracts for the sale of oil and in coal contract arbitrations about contract variation and price adjustment mechanisms. He has experience of disputes involving sampling and certification clauses (eg, Galaxy v Eurobunker SPA  2 Lloyd’s Rep 725) and of legal issues relating to carriage by road and air under the CMR and Warsaw Convention regimes, as well as carriage by sea.
- Ship sale & ship construction disputes
Nigel has considerable experience of shipbuilding disputes under contracts on SAJ, CMAC, and other forms (with variations). He has acted for buyers and for builders in arbitrations involving both commercial ships (including, tankers, bulk carriers, fast ferries, offshore supply vessels, specialist dry cargo vessels, and deep-sea trawlers) and pleasure craft, including several cases concerning luxury yachts. His experience includes both termination/rejection disputes and quality claims under warranties or for costs of repair. He has acted in many cases involving construction delays and the prevention principle. He recently acted in successful arbitration claims by buyers for recovery, after termination for delay, of instalments paid under contracts for an offshore anchor handling tug & supply vessel and for a bulk carrier. He is instructed in ongoing arbitrations about whether the shaft and propeller arrangements for a series of bulk carriers was defective, so that buyers were entitled to reject the ships. He advised in relation to warranty claims after a newbuild’s bunker tanks overflowed and caused marine pollution, and appeared in a delay/prevention dispute relating to buyers’ termination of a contract for the construction of a dry cargo vessel. Nigel’s ship sale and purchase experience includes The ‘Bay Ridge’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 227 and other disputes under the Norwegian Saleform and other forms of contract. He has recently advised on a dispute about responsibility for employee liabilities following the sale of a fast ferry operation and acts for sellers in an ongoing cancellation dispute under contracts on the 2012 Norwegian Saleform for the sale of two offshore crane vessels.
Nigel has career-long experience of a full spectrum of dry-shipping disputes under bills of lading, contracts of affreightment, time charters, voyage charters, and demise charters. He has been involved in numerous cases concerning seaworthiness, cargo claims, dangerous cargoes, stevedore damage and pilfering, responsibility for loading and unloading, unsafe ports, laytime and demurrage, hire and off-hire disputes, and delivery and re-delivery issues (eg, The ‘Giovanna’  1 Lloyd’s Rep 867; The ‘Goodpal’  1 Lloyd’s Rep 638). These cases have involved a wide range of dry and liquid cargoes, including oil, LNG, chemicals, coal, ore, steel, grains and other foodstuffs and containerised cargoes, and various different types of vessel, such as bulk carriers, tankers, LNG carriers, containerships, fast ferries and ro-ro transporters. He has recently been instructed in disputes about early termination clauses, late redelivery under an expiring time charter, and the repudiation of an oil tanker time charter.
Nigel is familiar with charterparty and bill of lading forms in common use, and regularly deals with legal issues under the Hague/Hague-Visby Rules and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992. He has also acted in disputes under letters of indemnity (eg, Far East Chartering v Binani Cement  1 Lloyd’s Rep 637) and the Inter-Club Agreement. Recently, Nigel has acted for shipowners whose vessels were left contaminated by residues after carriage of oil cargoes; in litigation following explosion of a containerised cargo at sea; and in arbitrations concerning withdrawal of chartered vessels and early termination. He represented the successful charterers in The ‘LNG Gemini’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 113, a case about the Shelltime “injurious cargo” clause which i-law selected as one of the most noteworthy charterparty disputes of the year. In addition to disputes arising from charters and carriage of goods, he has experience of other types of dispute relating to the shipping industry, such as Novoship v Mikhaylyuk & Others, concerning bribery and secret profits in the chartering arrangements for a fleet of tankers and, recently, Capstan Capital Partners v Rickmers, where he appeared for Rickmers successfully defending a claim for fees by a financial advice boutique.
2013 Queen’s Counsel.
1992 Barrister, Essex Court Chambers.
1991-1992 Pupillage, Essex Court Chambers.
1990-1992 Lecturer in Law, Magdalen College, Oxford
1991 Called to the Bar (Gray’s Inn)
1990 Bachelor Of Civil Law (First Class Honours), Magdalen College, Oxford
1989 BA in Jurisprudence (First Class Honours), Magdalen College, Oxford
1991 Eldon Law Scholarship, University Of Oxford.
1990 Inns Of Court Scholarship.
1989 Martin Wronker Prize for first in year in Jurisprudence Finals. Subject prizes in tort and in trusts.
1988 Demy Scholar of Magdalen College, Oxford.