War Risks and Kidnap & Ransom in charter do not exclude GA claim for piracy under bills of lading.

The Polar [2020] EWHC 3318 (Comm) – HERCULITO MARITIME LIMITED v. GUNVOR INTERNATIONAL BV – involved an appeal pursuant to section 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996, in respect of a claim by shipowners against cargo owners under six bills of lading for general average  in respect of ransom payments made by owners to pirates. under the relevant bills of lading. The general average expenditure was the payment of a ransom to pirates to enable the release of the vessel so that she could complete her voyage.  Cargo owners contended that the GA claim was barred because the bills of lading incorporated the terms of the relevant charterparty under which the shipowners’ only remedy in the event of having to pay a ransom to pirates was to recover the same under the terms of a Kidnap and Ransom insurance policy and a War Risks policy taken out by the shipowners, the premium for which was, pursuant to the charterparty, payable by the charterers. Previous cases on incorporation had involved demurrage clauses and jurisdiction and arbitration clause. Incorporation of insurance terms and their possible constitution of a complete code excluding other remedies, such as claiming in GA, was a novelty.

The clauses were incorporated as directly germane to the loading, carriage and discharge of the cargo, but they provided  for payment of the premiums

by charterers and this language would not be manipulated so as to include bills of lading holders. Sir Nigel Teare, acting as a Judge of the High Court, held that “to substitute “bill of lading holders” for “Charterers” when reading clause 39 into the bills would be inconsistent with the obligation of the bill of lading holders to pay freight as per the charterparty as the price for the performance by the Owners of the contract of carriage. It would mean that the holders of the bills of lading, in the event that certain liberties were exercised by the Owners, had to pay may more than the agreed freight for the performance of the contract of carriage. Moreover, such additional sums would be unknown and unlimited.”  Similar provisions applied as regards kidnap and ransom insurance premiums payable under the Gulf of Aden clause.

As regards, the argument that the charter provisions on payment of the premiums constituted a ‘complete code’ excluding owners’ remedies in the event of piracy, this was certainly the position as regards the charterers. On the true construction of the charter the parties had agreed to look to the additional policies for the recovery of relevant losses and so the Owners were precluded by that agreement from seeking to recover that loss by way of a contribution in general average. However, as regards the position under the bill of lading, the only parts of the clauses in question which have been incorporated into the bills so as to bind the holders of the bills were the liberties conferred on the Owners not to complete the voyage or to depart from the usual or expected route. There was an important difference between the position under the Charter and the position under the bills of lading –  it could not be said of the bill of lading holders, as Lord Roskill said of the charterers in the Evia No.2, that theyhad paid the premiums not only for no benefit for themselves but without shedding any of their liability to contribute in general average in respect of losses caused by the additional insured perils. The point was not that the Owners had agreed to transit the Gulf of Aden at no cost to themselves, but that the charterers had agreed to pay for the insurance.

For these reasons the contract of carriage contained in or evidenced by the bills of lading did not contain an agreement by the Owners not to seek a contribution in general average from the holders of the bills from liability in respect of losses covered by the additional insurance taken out by the Owners.

Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. Result of Sunday’s referendum

On Sunday the Swiss voted in a referendum on a proposal for extra territorial liability for Swiss companies liable for human rights violations and environmental damage committed by their subsidiaries. The proposal gained 50.7% of popular vote but only gained 8.5 of the required 12 regional majorities across Switzerland’s cantons. A majority of both the popular vote and cantonal vote is needed for an initiative to pass and so the proposal was rejected. The Swiss Parliament will now adopt the Government’s counter-proposal which is limited to reporting and issue-specific due diligence without liability rules.

The Deepwater Horizon liability insurance case. The arbitrator’s duty of disclosure and removal under s.24 of the Arbitration Act 1996.

Halliburton Company (Appellant) v Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd (formerly known as Ace Bermuda Insurance Ltd) (Respondent)  [2020] UKSC 48 was a dispute relating to the appointment of Mr Ken Rokison QC as sole arbitrator under a liability insurance policy which arose out of damage caused by an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The relevant parties were BP Exploration and Production Inc. (“BP”) the the lessee of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean Holdings LLC (“Transocean”) the owner of the rig and provider of crew and drilling teams to BP, and, Halliburton Company (“Halliburton”)who provided cementing and well-monitoring services to BP.

Halliburton and Transocean both entered into a Bermuda Form liability policy with the respondent, Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd (“Chubb”). A  US judgment was given apportioning blame between the parties, and Halliburton settled the claims against it. Chubb refused to pay out  under the liability policy, contending that Halliburton’s settlement was not a reasonable settlement. The same happened to Transocean. The Bermuda Form provided for arbitration.

Mr Rokison was appointed as sole arbitrator in Halliburton’s arbitration against Chubb, after the parties were unable to agree a third arbitrator. Subsequently Mr Rokson was appointed as an arbitrator in two further Deepwater Horizon references. The first appointment was made by Chubb and related to Transocean’s claim against Chubb. The second was a joint nomination by the parties involved in a claim by Transocean against another insurer.

When Halliburton discovered this they applied to the court under section 24 of the Arbitration Act 1996 to remove Mr Rokison as an arbitrator. That application was refused. The Court of Appeal then found that, while Mr Rokison’s proposed appointment in the subsequent references should have been disclosed to Halliburton, an objective observer would not in the circumstances conclude there was a real possibility of bias.

On Friday the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, Lord Hodge giving the principal judgment, and dismissed the appeal. In considering an allegation of apparent bias against an arbitrator, the test is whether the fair-minded and informed observer would conclude there is a real possibility of bias. The duty of disclosure is a legal duty and not simply good arbitral practice, and is a component of the arbitrator’s statutory obligations of fairness and impartiality. It does not, however, override the arbitrator’s duty of privacy and confidentiality. The duty of disclosure requires the arbitrator to disclose matters which might reasonably give rise to justifiable doubts as to his or her impartiality, and a failure to do so is a factor for the fair-minded and informed observer to take into account in assessing whether there is a real possibility of bias, having regard to the facts and circumstances known at the time of the hearing to remove the arbitrator.

Five factors pointed against any finding of bias. First, at the time, it had not been clear that there was a legal duty of disclosure. Secondly, the Transocean arbitrations had commenced several months after the Halliburton arbitration. Thirdly,  in his measured response to Halliburton’s challenge Mr Rokison hadexplained that it was likely the subsequent references would be resolved by a preliminary issue (as they in fact were) and that, if they were not, he would consider resigning from the Transocean arbitrations. Fourthly, there was no question of his having received any secret financial benefit. Fifth, there was no basis for inferring any unconscious ill will on his part.

UK lifts embargo on vessels from Denmark in ‘Covid-mink’ crisis.

On 18 November the UK lifted its embargo on vessels from Denmark coming into UK ports which was imposed on 8 November. The new rules are:

Vessels and aircraft travelling directly from Denmark are not permitted to moor or land in England if they carry any passengers.

Aircraft and vessels which do not carry passengers (freight-only) will be allowed to land and moor in England as usual.

Any crew members who land or dock in the UK, who have been in Denmark in the 14 days before their arrival, must self isolate.

Crew members will only be allowed to enter (cross border control) if they are British nationals, Irish nationals or have the right to reside in the UK.

Climate change reduction and the IMO. What to expect from this week’s MEPC meeting.

Crucial measures to further reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships will be discussed by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) met between 16-20 November to discuss measures to reduce further greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

The IMO’s website notes that the MEPC is expected to adopt amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) to significantly strengthen the “phase 3” requirements of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) – meaning that new ships built from 2022 will have to be significantly more energy-efficient. Those amendments were approved at the previous session of the Committee (MEPC 74) in May 2019. 

The MEPC will also discuss two further energy efficiency requirements comprising draft amendments which were agreed by IMO’s Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG-GHG 7) in October, and would also apply to existing ships:

  • a new Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) for all ships;
  • an annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and its rating, which would apply to ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above.

If approved at this session of the Committee, they could then be put forward for adoption at the subsequent MEPC 76 session, to be held in June 2021. Under MARPOL, amendments can enter into force after a minimum 16 months following adoption.

EU Parliament suggests civil liability regulation for artificial intelligence. Possible collisions ahead with IMO civil liability collisions?

On 22 October the European Parliament sent a draft regulation to the Commission for a new strict liability regime for operators of AI systems. Its salient features are.

Scope

Art 2

This Regulation applies on the territory of the Union where a physical or virtual activity, device or process driven by an AI-system has caused harm or damage to the life, health, physical integrity of a natural person, to the property of a natural or legal person or has caused significant immaterial harm resulting in a verifiable economic loss.

Definitions

Art 3

(c)  ‘high risk’ means a significant potential in an autonomously operating AI-system to cause harm or damage to one or more persons in a manner that is random and goes beyond what can reasonably be expected; the significance of the potential depends on the interplay between the severity of possible harm or damage, the degree of autonomy of decision-making, the likelihood that the risk materializes and the manner and the context in which the AI-system is being used;

(d)  ‘operator’ means both the frontend and the backend operator as long as the latter’s liability is not already covered by Directive 85/374/EEC;

(e)  ‘frontend operator’ means any natural or legal person who exercises a degree of control over a risk connected with the operation and functioning of the AI-system and benefits from its operation;

(f)  ‘backend operator’ means any natural or legal person who, on a continuous basis, defines the features of the technology and provides data and an essential backend support service and therefore also exercises a degree of control over the risk connected with the operation and functioning of the AI-system;

(g)  ‘control’ means any action of an operator that influences the operation of an AI-system and thus the extent to which the operator exposes third parties to the potential risks associated with the operation and functioning of the AI-system; such actions can impact the operation at any stage by determining the input, output or results, or can change specific functions or processes within the AI-system; the degree to which those aspects of the operation of the AI-system are determined by the action depends on the level of influence the operator has over the risk connected with the operation and functioning of the AI-system;

(h)  ‘affected person’ means any person who suffers harm or damage caused by a physical or virtual activity, device or process driven by an AI-system, and who is not its operator;

(i)  ‘harm or damage’ means an adverse impact affecting the life, health, physical integrity of a natural person, the property of a natural or legal person or causing significant immaterial harm that results in a verifiable economic loss;

(j)  ‘producer’ means the producer as defined in Article 3 of Directive 85/374/EEC. (the Product Liability Directive)

Strict liability for high-risk AI-systems

Article 4

1.  The operator of a high-risk AI-system shall be strictly liable for any harm or damage that was caused by a physical or virtual activity, device or process driven by that AI-system.

2.  All high-risk AI-systems and all critical sectors where they are used shall be listed in the Annex to this Regulation…

3.  Operators of high-risk AI-systems shall not be able to exonerate themselves from liability by arguing that they acted with due diligence or that the harm or damage was caused by an autonomous activity, device or process driven by their AI-system. Operators shall not be held liable if the harm or damage was caused by force majeure.

4.  The frontend operator of a high-risk AI-system shall ensure that operations of that AI-system are covered by liability insurance that is adequate in relation to the amounts and extent of compensation provided for in Articles 5 and 6 of this Regulation. The backend operator shall ensure that its services are covered by business liability or product liability insurance that is adequate in relation to the amounts and extent of compensation provided for in Article 5 and 6 of this Regulation. If compulsory insurance regimes of the frontend or backend operator already in force pursuant to other Union or national law or existing voluntary corporate insurance funds are considered to cover the operation of the AI-system or the provided service, the obligation to take out insurance for the AI-system or the provided service pursuant to this Regulation shall be deemed fulfilled, as long as the relevant existing compulsory insurance or the voluntary corporate insurance funds cover the amounts and the extent of compensation provided for in Articles 5 and 6 of this Regulation.

5.  This Regulation shall prevail over national liability regimes in the event of conflicting strict liability classification of AI-systems.

Amount of compensation

Article 5

1.   An operator of a high-risk AI-system that has been held liable for harm or damage under this Regulation shall compensate:

(a)  up to a maximum amount of EUR two million in the event of the death of, or in the event of harm caused to the health or physical integrity of, an affected person, resulting from an operation of a high-risk AI-system;

(b)  up to a maximum amount of EUR one million in the event of significant immaterial harm that results in a verifiable economic loss or of damage caused to property, including when several items of property of an affected person were damaged as a result of a single operation of a single high-risk AI-system; where the affected person also holds a contractual liability claim against the operator, no compensation shall be paid under this Regulation, if the total amount of the damage to property or the significant immaterial harm is of a value that falls below [EUR 500](9).

Limitation period

Article 7

1.  Civil liability claims, brought in accordance with Article 4(1), concerning harm to life, health or physical integrity, shall be subject to a special limitation period of 30 years from the date on which the harm occurred.

2.  Civil liability claims, brought in accordance with Article 4(1), concerning damage to property or significant immaterial harm that results in a verifiable economic loss shall be subject to special limitation period of:

(a)  10 years from the date when the property damage occurred or the verifiable economic loss resulting from the significant immaterial harm, respectively, occurred, or

(b)  30 years from the date on which the operation of the high-risk AI-system that subsequently caused the property damage or the immaterial harm took place.

Of the periods referred to in the first subparagraph, the period that ends first shall be applicable.

Fault-based liability for other AI-systems

Article 8

1.  The operator of an AI-system that does not constitute a high-risk AI-system as laid down in Articles 3(c) and 4(2) and, as a result is not listed in the Annex to this Regulation, shall be subject to fault-based liability for any harm or damage that was caused by a physical or virtual activity, device or process driven by the AI-system.

2.  The operator shall not be liable if he or she can prove that the harm or damage was caused without his or her fault, relying on either of the following grounds:

(a)  the AI-system was activated without his or her knowledge while all reasonable and necessary measures to avoid such activation outside of the operator’s control were taken, or

(b)  due diligence was observed by performing all the following actions: selecting a suitable AI-system for the right task and skills, putting the AI-system duly into operation, monitoring the activities and maintaining the operational reliability by regularly installing all available updates.

The operator shall not be able to escape liability by arguing that the harm or damage was caused by an autonomous activity, device or process driven by his or her AI-system. The operator shall not be liable if the harm or damage was caused by force majeure.

3.  Where the harm or damage was caused by a third party that interfered with the AI-system by modifying its functioning or its effects, the operator shall nonetheless be liable for the payment of compensation if such third party is untraceable or impecunious.

4.  At the request of the operator or the affected person, the producer of an AI-system shall have the duty of cooperating with, and providing information to, them to the extent warranted by the significance of the claim, in order to allow for the identification of the liabilities.

National provisions on compensation and limitation period

Article 9

Civil liability claims brought in accordance with Article 8(1) shall be subject, in relation to limitation periods as well as the amounts and the extent of compensation, to the laws of the Member State in which the harm or damage occurred.

 There are also provisions regarding contributory negligence, Article 10, joint and several liability, Article 11, recourse for compensation, Article 12.

There are no carve-outs as regards existing civil liability conventions for maritime claims such as the CLC, Bunker Oil Pollution Convention, HNS Convention, which are strict liability based, and the 1910 Brussels Collision Convention which is fault liability based. This is in contrast to the exclusions contained in the 2004 Environmental Liability Directive whose territorial scope was widened with the 2013 Offshore Safety Directive. The current proposal applies to the “territory of the Union” which would encompass the territorial sea of Member States and, in the light of the ECJ’s decision in Commun v Mesquer, loss or damage manifesting on land from an oil spill in the exclusive economic zone of a Member State would come within the scope of the Regulation. As such, it has the capacity to conflict with existing strict liability conventions as enacted in national laws (see the priority of the regulation stipulated in art 4(5)) where autonomous vessels come into operation at MASS Levels 3 and 4, if these are regarded as ‘high risk’. If that were the case, collision liabilities involving such vessels would be dealt with by a strict liability regime, as opposed to the current fault based regime under the Brussels Collision Convention 1910.

Norway’s ‘Urgenda’ moment? Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n v. Ministry of Petroleum and Energy

Between 4-12 November 2020 the Norwegian Supreme Court heard an appeal from environmental groups seeking the invalidation of the granting of licenses in 2016 to conduct exploratory drilling in the South and South East Barents Sea, an area on the Norwegian continental shelf spanning about 77 acres where oil and gas fields have recently been built. Companies were awarded licenses in 2016 to conduct exploratory drilling in the South and South East Barents Sea, an area on the Norwegian continental shelf spanning about 77 acres where oil and gas fields have recently been built. Parliament approved opening the area for exploration three years earlier.

Their action is brought under the Norwegian Constitution’s environmental provisions, art. 112, which were passed in 2014. They argue that exploratory drilling licenses violate a constitutional right to a healthy environment. They claim the oil-exploration plans were not fully researched before being approved and also rely on a previously unknown expert report throwing doubt on the economic benefit of drilling in the Barents Sea, which was commissioned by the government in 2013 but not passed onto the Parliament before its vote approving exploration in the Barents Sea. The Norwegian government has said that it fulfilled its constitutional duty by compensating for negative effects on the environment in other areas.

The action has failed in the lower courts, although both recognised the right of citizens to bring actions under the environmental provisions of the Constitution, with the higher court accepting that the right involved the impact from climate emissions — including those from oil and gas exported abroad, which is the case for most of Norway’s production.

The Norwegian government intends to continue requesting exploration licences and in June 2020 announced licensing awards in predefined areas (APA) 2020 which comprises blocks in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea.

Baltimore Climate Change litigation in State Courts. Supreme Court to wade in.

A follow on from our blog of 15 April 2020 where we stated, as regards the climate change suits in Baltimore, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s denial of the defendants’ application to remove it to the federal courts – where it would be dismissed due the decision of the Supreme Court in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011) (AEP),  and that of the Ninth Circuit in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 696 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2012), that such actions, at least when they relate to domestic GHG emissions caused by the defendant, are pre-empted by the Clean Air Act. .

On 31 March 2020 the Defendants submitted a petition for certiorari to the US Supreme Court. on the question whether 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) permits a court of appeals to review any issue encompassed in a district court’s order remanding a removed case to state court where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal-officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1442, or the civil-rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1443.

Last month the United States Supreme Court stated that it will review the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling. This is on the procedural ground as to what can be reviewed by a federal appellate court. Three circuit courts – including the Fourth Circuit, which ruled on Baltimore’s case – have ruled that federal officer jurisdiction is the only issue that they can review when considering the companies’ appeal of a lower court’s remand order. The seventh circuit has taken the view that that the federal officer removal statute authorizes appellate review of the entire remand order. In the Baltimore case the District Court rejected a total of eight grounds for removal but the Fourth Circuit concluded its appellate jurisdiction was limited to determining whether the companies properly removed the case under the federal-officer removal statute.

 The oil major defendants are banking on the hope that the more grounds for removal that the Court of Appeal must consider, the more chance of a successful remand to the federal courts where the pesky case will meet its demise.

We shall see.

Mink to human spread of COVID 19. UK restrictions on travel from Denmark.

As from 0400 GMT on Sunday 8 November new rules begin in relation to travel from Denmark as a result of the release of “further information” from health officials in Denmark, where some 200 people have been found to have mink-related mutations of virus, most of them connected to farms in the North Jutland region. Any UK citizens who have travelled to Denmark must isolate for 14 days, along with their household.

Passenger planes and ships carrying freight from Denmark will also not be allowed to dock at English ports.

Cabin crew are also no longer exempt from the quarantine rules

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said that the rules will be reviewed after a week.

Hague Convention 2005. After the transition period.

As expected the UK government has made a fresh declaration agreeing to be bound by the Hague Convention on Choice of Law 2005 in its own right from the end of the transition period at 11pm, UK time, on 31 December  2020. It states “With the intention of ensuring continuity of application of the 2005 Hague Convention, the United Kingdom has submitted the Instrument of Accession in accordance with Article 27(4) of the 2005 Hague Convention. Whilst acknowledging that the Instrument of Accession takes effect at 00:00 CET on 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom considers that the 2005 Hague Convention entered into force for the United Kingdom on 1 October 2015 and that the United Kingdom is a Contracting State without interruption from that date.”

It has also made a reservation under art 21 of the Convention that it will not apply the Convention to insurance contracts except as stated below.

(a) where the contract is a reinsurance contract;

(b) where the choice of court agreement is entered into after the dispute has arisen;

(c) where, without prejudice to Article 1 (2) of the Convention, the choice of court agreement is concluded between a policyholder and an insurer, both of whom are, at the time of the conclusion of the contract of insurance, domiciled or habitually resident in the same Contracting State, and that agreement has the effect of conferring jurisdiction on the courts of that State, even if the harmful event were to occur abroad, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that State;

(d) where the choice of court agreement relates to a contract of insurance which covers one or more of the following risks considered to be large risks:

(i) any loss or damage arising from perils which relate to their use for commercial purposes, of, or to:

          (a) seagoing ships, installations situated offshore or on the high seas or river, canal and lake vessels;

          (b) aircraft;

          (c) railway rolling stock;

(ii) any loss of or damage to goods in transit or baggage other than passengers’ baggage, irrespective of the form of transport;

(iii) any liability, other than for bodily injury to passengers or loss of or damage to their baggage, arising out of the use or operation of:

         (a) ships, installations or vessels as referred to in point (i)(a);

         (b) aircraft, in so far as the law of the Contracting State in which such aircraft are registered does not prohibit choice of court agreements regarding the insurance of such risks;

         (c) railway rolling stock;

(iv) any liability, other than for bodily injury to passengers or loss of or damage to their baggage, for loss or damage caused by goods in transit or baggage as referred to in point (ii);

(v) any financial loss connected with the use or operation of ships, installations, vessels, aircraft or railway rolling stock as referred to in point (i), in particular loss of freight or charter-hire;

(vi) any risk or interest connected with any of the risks referred to in points (i) to (v);

(vii) any credit risk or suretyship risk where the policy holder is engaged professionally in an industrial or commercial activity or in one of the liberal professions and the risk relates to such activity;

(viii) any other risks where the policy holder carries on a business of a size which exceeds the limits of at least two of the following criteria:

          (a) a balance-sheet total of EUR 6,2 million;

          (b) a net turnover of EUR 12,8 million;

          (c) an average number of 250 employees during the financial year.

2. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland declares that it may, at a later stage in the light of the experience acquired in the application of the Convention, reassess the need to maintain its declaration under Article 21 of the Convention.”