Unseaworthiness and general average.  The Cape Bonny.

 

The Cape Bonny [2017] EWHC 3036 (Comm) gives us another general average judgment, following hot on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in The Longchamp. This time it was the effect of an actionable fault of the shipowner that was in issue.

An oil tanker suffered an engine breakdown on a voyage to China at a time when the vessel was endeavouring to avoid a tropical storm. The vessel required towage assistance and engaged a tow. She was not permitted to enter a port of refuge in Japan or to discharge at the Chinese discharge port and was taken to South Korea to transfer her cargo to another vessel by STS. At the time the vessel set sail, she had been unseaworthy in two respects. First, some of her filters were not seaworthy. Secondly, there was abnormal wear on one of the bearings. Cargo interests refused to pay their general average contribution on the basis that there had been actionable fault on the part of the shipowners, namely their failure  to exercise due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy as required by art III(1) of the Hague-Visby Rules which were incorporated into the contract of carriage.

Teare J found that owners had failed to exercise due diligence in respect of both of the instances of unseaworthiness, but that the first instance had not been causative of the breakdown.  A proper inspection of the filter candles prior to sailing would not necessarily have revealed that some had damaged mesh, as not all the candles were damaged. However, the deflection readings prior to sailing would have alerted a prudent engineer or superintendent to taking bearing clearance measurements. This failure to take due diligence was causative in that such measurements would have indicated abnormal wear requiring a repair before the voyage could safely be undertaken.

Accordingly, the general average expenditure incurred by the owners was due to their actionable fault and cargo interests were not liable to make a general average contribution. Teare J then went on to consider, obiter, whether the tow expenses would have been recoverable as being “reasonably made” as required by Rule A.  Although the vessel was immobilised at sea and not in danger of drifting aground, there was a tropical storm in the area and it was reasonable to engage a tug which could get to the vessel as soon as possible. Teare J approved the statement in Lowndes and Rudolf at para. A-42 to the effect that immobilisation caused by a main engine breakdown is a sufficient peril or danger in the law of general average “even if the accident occurs in fine weather. The cost of towage and/or salvage into a port of refuge will then unquestionably be treated as general average.” The actions of the owners in discharging the cargo by STS operations were also reasonable given that owners had failed in their attempts to get the vessel into a Japanese port of refuge and to get the receivers to accept delivery in the Chinese port of discharge.

 

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