Jurisdiction decisions in the shipping context follow each other in close succession. Yesterday we had another, from Males J, of some interest to insurers: namely, Griffin Underwriting Ltd v Varouxakis (The Free Goddess)  EWHC 3259 (Comm).
The Free Goddess, a 22,000 dwt bulker owned by Freeseas, was seized by Somali pirates while en route to Thailand with steel coils. K & R insurers Griffin, based in Guernsey but doing business in London, paid out something over $6 million to free her, whereupon she sailed to Oman. Griffin clearly had a right to take over from Freeseas a pretty cast-iron GA claim against cargo interests: on arrival it duly entered into a settlement agreement with Freeseas under which Freeseas agreed to furnish all assistance, including preservation of security, in claiming GA and also to account to Griffin for all sums received on that basis. GA, as might be expected, was settlable and payable in London.
According to Griffin’s (as yet unestablished) allegations, Freeseas did no such thing. Instead of the obvious course of oncarrying the cargo to Thailand and claiming GA in due course, it sold the ship in Oman, destroying any security for GA and providing cargo with a counterclaim for damages which was likely to dwarf the GA liability in any case. In addition it had allegedly trousered a large sum in interim GA contributions without accounting for it.
Freeseas not being worth powder and shot, Griffin sued one Ion Varouxakis, the Greek-domiciled owner of the company, for inducing it to break the settlement agreement. They alleged that the damage had been suffered in London and therefore they could invoke Art.7, the tort article of Brussels I Recast. Mr Varouxakis insisted that he could only be sued in Greece, arguing for good measure that this was a suit by an underwriter in a matter relating to insurance under Art.14, so the other exceptions did not apply.
In fact Mr Varouxakis was held to have waived any jurisdiction point, so the claim is going ahead in London anyway. But Males J did go on to give a view on the other points. On the issue of the loss of the right to GA, he regarded the issue of where the loss had been suffered as finely balanced, but expressed the view that the direct damage had been suffered in Oman, where he opined that the right to enforce GA had been effectively lost: the fact that GA had not been paid in London he regarded as a remoter consequence and not in account because of decisions such as Kronhofer v Mayer  All ER (EC) 939. So there would have been no jurisdiction. On the other hand, he thought the loss had been suffered in London as regarded the failure to account, and so would have allowed the claim under that head to go ahead on that head in any event. As for the suggestion that this was a matter relating to insurance, he smartly rebuffed the point: insurance might be the background, but this arose out of an independent settlement agreement.
The second point was fairly obvious: if someone infringes my right to an accounting in London, it is difficult to think of anywhere apart from London where the damage occurs. The third is also welcome: the insurance rules under under Art.14 are ill-thought-out even by Euro-standards, and anything that prevents their becoming any more bloated than they already are can only be a good thing.
This blog is less sure about the first. Saying the damage occurred in Oman gets pretty close to conflating damage with the act giving rise to it; it also means that the place of the damage in cases of this sort becomes wildly arbitrary, depending on which port a vessel happens to be in at the time. On the other hand, if GA is settled and negotiated in London, it seems fairly convincing to argue that preventing it being settled and paid there causes a direct loss within the Square Mile. Unfortunately, because the claimants won in any case, we are unlikely to see an appeal here. But this shouldn’t be regarded as necessarily the last word.