On 5 October 2020, Sir Nigel Teare gave his last judgment in the Admiralty Court, in a three handed collision case involving a pile up of three laden bulk carrier vessels in the Suez Canal in 2018. The Panamax Alexander (PA) was the final vessel in an eight vessel southbound convoy that halted some two hours after the initial convoy vessel suffered an engine breakdown and blocked the canal. The other vessels had to take emergency anchoring and/or mooring action. The sixth and seventh vessels managed to do this. About fifteen minutes later PA collided with the first of these, the Sakizaya Kalan (SK) which led to PA and SK drifting downstream and colliding with the Osios David (OD), over an hour after the initial collision. For a few minutes all three vessels were locked together and a further two sets of collisions took place.
PA was held 100% to blame in failing to appreciate that there was a risk of collision and, not mooring earlier to avoid that risk of collision. These were causative breaches of Rules 5, 7 and 8 of the International Collision Regulations (Colregs).
Although OD was at fault in that she had failed to inform SK and PA behind of her intention to moor, that fault had no causative potency as the duty to inform was owed mainly to the vessel immediately behind, which had already stopped before the first collision. Were the subsequent collisions caused by the initial collision for which PA was wholly to blame? Teare J stated:
“That question of causation depends upon whether the effect of the first collision was continuing in such a way as not merely to provide the opportunity for the later collisions but as to constitute the cause of them. The courts have answered questions of this nature (which usually arise where there has been intervening negligence) by the use of metaphors. Was the hand of negligent navigator on board PA still heavy on SK and OD at the time of the later collisions? Were those on board SK and OD not free agents by reason of the hard necessities imposed on them by the first collision? Were those on board SK and OD still in the grip of the first collision? These metaphors and their source are described by Brandon J. in The Calliope at p.101. Such questions are to be approached in a broad common sense way; see p. 102..”
Teare J concluded that the initial collision “not merely provided the opportunity for the later collisions but constituted the cause of” those subsequent collisions, even though they took place over an hour after that and recognized the difficulties faced by the master of SK and of OD on the horns of a dilemma created by the fault of PA. Accordingly, PA was found wholly responsible and liable for all the collisions.