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Translation errors cause disputes over contract terms

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

10:07, March 23, 2012

Translation errors in key contract terms have been responsible for igniting disputes between Chinese and foreign companies, the Shanghai Maritime Court said on Thursday after reviewing archives in the past two years.

"Although such cases account for less than 5 percent of all cases, the avoidable mistakes brought about significant losses, especially to the Chinese side," said Ying Xinlong, president of the court.

The court heard 1,981 cases about maritime and commercial affairs in 2011.

"The level of translation in the shipping field and navigation law shows a disparity with the municipality's status as an international metropolis and an international shipping center," Ying said.

In a case last year, "drydocking" was mistranslated as "tank washing" and "except fuel used for domestic service" was misinterpreted as "except fuel used for domestic flights" in the contract terms when it was translated from English to Chinese.

That caused controversies between the Chinese and foreign parties about their rights and obligations as well as their share of costs.

Some expressions are sanctioned by usage instead of literal interpretation, which are well-known by industry insiders but are strange to common translators, according to Jin Xiaofeng, a judge in the court.

"There are loads of translation agencies in Shanghai and in the nation, but the quality is varied, and professional translators that have expertise in a particular aspect are scarce," he said.

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