We do need a marine insurance drugs clause

Another item for the agenda at the LMA (and elsewhere where they do insurance).  If someone tries to use your ship without your knowledge for drug-smuggling and the vessel gets seized, the Supreme Court has now confirmed in Navigators Insurance Co Ltd & Ors v Atlasnavios-Navegação Lda [2018] UKSC 26 that your insurance may well not respond, with your underwriters politely but regretfully telling you that you are on your own.

While an elderly  bulker, the B Atlantic, was loading a cargo of coal in Maracaibo, Venezuela, enterprising drug smugglers strapped nearly 300 lb of cocaine to her hull with a view to retrieving it later. The drugs were found, and the vessel seized and condemned by the Venezuelan authorities. Her owners’ H&M insurance included the Institute War & Strikes Clause, which gave cover for capture, seizure and arrest; against persons acting maliciously; and against confiscation and expropriation. But specifically excluded under Clause 4.1.5 was detainment, confiscation or expropriation by reason of infringement of customs or trading regulations. The underwriters declined to pay. Flaux J decided for the owners; the smugglers’ acts were those of “persons acting maliciously”, and Clause 4.1.5 did not apply because the substantial cause of their loss was the acts of the smugglers and not the resulting infringement of the Venezuelan customs code. The Court of Appeal disagreed: the exclusion of infringement of customs or trading regulations should not be limited in this way, and in the circumstances excluded liability.

The Supremes, led by Lord Mance, agreed with the Court of Appeal, but went further. Not only did the events fall fair and square within the exclusion of confiscation for breach of customs or trading regulations, but there had been no cover in the first place. “Persons acting maliciously” meant persons deliberately out to injure the interests of the owners. Unlike terrorists, bombers or garden-variety vandals, drug-smugglers did not fall in this category: they were criminals, true, and knew that what they did might have consequences for the owners, but this was not enough.

This is, if one may say so, a sensible and convincing decision on the facts and the wording. But it does leave owners high and dry when faced with a risk against which they can quite legitimately desire protection. A specific clause protecting against seizure for drug-smuggling committed without the knowledge or connivance of the owner or the crew now seems a high priority. As we said, it’s over to you at the LMA.

 

 

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