Where is General Average?

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) [2018] 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 [2004] 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.


Atlantik (misplaced) Confidence — the saga continues.

Last year we dealt here with Teare J’s meticulous decision in Aspen Underwriting Ltd & Ors v Kairos Shipping Ltd [2017] EWHC 1904 (Comm), in which following the Atlantik Confidence debacle, hull underwriters, having previously paid out on the orders of her owners’ (Dutch) bank under an insurance assignment provision, now sued the bank to recover their money on the basis that the ship had been deliberately scuttled. The issue was whether the bank could insist on being sued in the Netherlands on the basis of Art.4 of Brussels I Recast. The decision was that most claims, including those based on unjust enrichment, had to be brought in the Netherlands. Howver, claims based on tortious misrepresentation and under the Misrepresentation Act 1967 could be brought here. The fact that such claims related to insurance under Art.14 was no bar, since there was no question of a large Dutch bank being a weaker party who, according to Recital 18 to the Regulation, needed to be protected from the machinations of big bad insurers.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal (seeAspen Underwriting Ltd & Ors v Credit Europe Bank NV [2018] EWCA Civ 2590). On most points it simply said that the Judge had got it absolutely right. The only exception was that it was not open to a judge, consitently with Euro-law, to take the sensible view and decline to apply Art.14 to anyone he thouht was not in fact a weaker party. But this did not matter, since in Kabeg v Mutuelles Du Mans Assurances (Case C-340/16) [2017] I.L. Pr. 31 the ECJ Advocate-General had since Teare J’s judgment accepted that Art.14 could be disapplied to a subrogee “regularly involved in the commercial or otherwise professional settlement of insurance-related claims who voluntarily assumed the realisation of the claim as party of its commercial or otherwise professional activity”. This was near enough to the position of the bank here to justify ignoring Art.14.

Some good news, in other words, for marine underwriters trying to get their money back from those acting for crooks.  On the other had, the moral we advanced in our previous article still stands: all policies in future ought to contain a term, rigorously enforced, stating that no monies will be paid out save against a signed receipt specifically submitting to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts in respect of any subsequent dispute respecting the payment or the policy generally.

 

The Athens Convention: uniformity rules – and quite right

Athens Convention time-bars are not the most riveting topic, but can be important. P&I clubs have little compunction in pouncing on inexperienced personal injury solicitors who miss the two-year time-bar and assume their clients have what is otherwise the normal three years to sue. But what happens when the claimant has the benefit of something that would delay the starting of the clock, such as a later date of knowledge, incapacity or even fraudulent concealment? Subject always to the absolute three-year Athens longstop, can they take advantage of this? Upholding the Inner House, the Supreme Court in a brief decision has now said they can, thus setting to rest doubts stemming from Higham v Stena Sealink Ltd [1996] 1 WLR 110.

The issue turns on the wording of Art.16(2), under which periods of “interruption” or “suspension” of a time-bar are governed by the law of the forum. These terms are normally used in connection with Continental systems’ long-standing habit of switching limitation periods on and off after they have started, rather like a malfunctioning Belisha beacon, on account of all sorts of matters such as ongoing negotiations. We don’t do that, being happy on occasion to delay the starting of the clock, but insisting that once it has started it ticks on to the bitter end. Can “interruption” or “suspension” cover this situation, that is a limitation clock that never starts, as against one that starts and then temporarily stops? The answer is Yes; the only exception is s.33, allowing the limitation period to be disregarded entirely if just and equitable, which clearly neither interrupts nor suspends anything.. And rightly so: Athens needs uniform interpretation, and a reading that took account of Continental modifications of the limitation period but not UK ones would be not only nit-picking but highly non-uniform. It would represent a kind of UK exceptionalism we can well do without.

Warner v Scapa Flow Charters (Scotland) [2018] UKSC 52 was, as readers no doubt noticed as a result of the reference to the Inner House, technically a Scots decision turning on the Scots law of prescription. But it is plainly just as relevant to our own Limitation Act 1980. Happy reading.

Who is an “operator” under OPA 1990? Dumb barges and dumb tug.

 

Who is an “operator” under OPA 1990? Dumb barges and dumb tug.

 

In January 2013, a tugboat owned by Nature’s Way was moving two oil-carrying barges owned by Third Coast Towing down the Mississippi River. The barges were “dumb” barges lacking the ability for self-propulsion or navigation. The barges collided with a bridge, resulting in one of the barges discharging over 7,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi. Nature’s Way and its insurer, and Third Coast Towing and its insurer were all designated by the Coast Guard as “responsible parties” under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (‘OPA’). Nature’s Way subsequently spent over $2.99 million on the clean-up, and various governmental entities spent over an additional $792,000. In May 2015, Nature’s Way submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) seeking reimbursement of over $2.13 million on the grounds that its liability should be limited by the tonnage of the tugboat and not the tonnage of the barges and also claiming relief from any obligation to reimburse the government for the additional $792,000-plus. Those claims were denied by the NPFC based upon its determination that Nature’s Way was an “operator” of the oil-discharging barge at the time of the collision.

 

The District Court held that Nature’s Way was an “operator” and its decision has been upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in US v Nature’s Way 21 Sept 2018. Case: 17-60698. OPA does not define the term “operator” but the Supreme Court in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51, 66 (1998) analysed the definition of the term in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), as follows:

In a mechanical sense, to “operate” ordinarily means “[t]o control the functioning of; run: operate a sewing machine.” American Heritage Dictionary 1268 (3d ed. 1992); see also Webster’s New International Dictionary 1707 (2d ed. 1958) (“to work; as, to operate a machine”). And in the organizational sense more obviously intended by CERCLA, the word ordinarily means “[t]o conduct the affairs of; manage: operate a business.”

 

Applying that analysis, the ordinary and natural meaning of an “operator” of a vessel under the OPA would include someone who directs, manages, or conducts the affairs of the vessel, and would thereby include the act of piloting or moving the vessel. Nature’s Way undisputedly had exclusive navigational control over the barge at the time of the collision, and, as such, it was a party whose direction (or lack thereof) caused the barge to collide with the bridge. It was, therefore, “operating” the barge at the time of the collision based on the ordinary and natural meaning of the term.

 

The Fifth Circuit rejected Nature’s Way’s argument that its conduct in moving the barge was more akin to the “mere mechanical activation of pumps,” and it could not be deemed to have been “operating” the barge because it was merely moving the barge as per Third Coast’s directions, and it did not exercise control over its environmental affairs or inspections.

Nature’s Way directed precisely the activity that caused the pollution—it literally was the party that crashed the barge into the bridge. It was clearly “operating” the barge at the time of the collision and therefore constituted a “responsible party” under OPA.

 

Court of Appeal decision on crossing rule and causative potency in collision.

In Evergreen Marine (UK) Ltd v Nautical Challenge Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 2173, we have the first Court of Appeal decision on collision liability since Bow Spring v Manzanillo II [2004] EWCA Civ 1007; [2005] 1 WLR 144, in 2004.

On the 11th February, 2015 the  “Alexandra I” and the “Ever Smart” collided just outside the dredged channel by which vessels enter and exit the port of Jebel Ali…” At first instance Teare J held that the crossing rules did not apply, so that when ‘Alexandra 1’ the inbound vessel approached the dredged channel (“the narrow channel”), she was not under a duty to keep out of the way of ‘Ever Smart’, the outbound vessel.  Instead, the navigation of the two vessels was governed by the narrow channel rule, rule 9 of the Collision Regulations, in the case of ‘Ever Smart’ and rule 2 of the Collision Regulations, the ordinary practice of seamen (i.e., the requirement of good seamanship), in the case of ‘Alexandra 1’ .   Furthermore, the crossing rule was inapplicable because ‘Alexandra 1’ was not on a sufficiently constant direction or heading to be on a course; she was waiting to embark a pilot rather than herself being on a course at the relevant time.

Teare J found both vessels to have been at fault and in apportioning liability had regard to the relative culpability and causative potency of each vessel’s faults.  Those of ‘Ever Smart’ were very serious in terms of culpability. ‘Alexandra 1’ ’s fault was culpable to a substantial degree.  In terms of relative culpability, the faults of ‘Ever Smart’ were much more culpable than those of ‘Alexandra 1’. The ‘Ever Smart’,  due to her unsafe speed, contributed far more to the damage resulting from the collision than the very much lower (and safe) speed of ‘Alexandra 1’ , and its. It followed that the causative potency as greater than that of ‘Alexandra 1’. Teare J held that ‘Ever Smart’ should bear 80% of the liability for the collision and ‘Alexandra 1’ 20%.

The Court of Appeal has now upheld the decision of Teare J. For the crossing rules to apply both vessels, the give-way vessel included, must be on sufficiently defined courses for the crossing rules to apply.  Had the crossing rules otherwise have applied it was argued that they were to be disapplied because ‘Alexandra 1’ ’ was “a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre” within rule 18 (a)(ii) of the Collision Regulations.  the definition contained in rule 3(g)(iii),  provides as follows:

“ The term ‘vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre’ means a vessel which from the nature of her work is restricted in her ability to manoeuvre as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.  The term ‘vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre’ shall include but not be limited to:

(iii) a vessel engaged in …..transferring persons…while underway;”

For the ‘Alexandra 1’  it was argued that she came within the definition as she was waiting in the pilot boarding area for the pilot to board with minimum steerage way. The Court of Appeal rejected this and upheld Teare J’s conclusion that:

“….had the crossing rule applied and ‘Alexandra 1’ ’ been obliged to keep out of the way of ‘Ever Smart’ she could have done so, for example at C-6, by putting her engines astern and so permitting ‘Ever Smart’ to cross ahead in safety or by turning to starboard.  She was not restricted in her ability to take such action by reason of embarking the pilot because that work had not commenced (and never did commence)….”

The Court of Appeal also upheld Teare J’s decision on causative potency. The Judge was not precluded, when apportioning liability, from considering the relative impact of each vessel’s faults on the severity of the collision and no double-counting had been involved. Causative potency has two aspects; the first relates to the extent to which the fault contributed to the fact of the collision occurring; the second, to the extent to which the fault contributed to the damage or loss resulting from the collision. Excessive speed is a prime example of a fault likely to contribute to the extent and severity of the damage or loss suffered. A Judge may take into account the propensity of excessive speed to increase the damage suffered when undertaking the exercise of apportionment – and thus to have regard in broad terms to the magnitude of the damage sustained.  The excessive speed of the ‘Ever Smart’ bore on both the fact of the collision and its severity, amounting to the separate counting of two different (and cumulative) aspects of the same fault.

Ship arrest: no provision for compensation for losses if claim turns out unjustified

You can always expect a scholarly judgment from Teare J. Today he dealt with a long-standing issue in the English law of arrest of ships: the lack of any jurisdiction to demand from the arrester security  for, or payment of compensation for, the losses suffered by the owner if the arrest turns out unjustified. His Lordship confirmed the traditional position, holding that it was for Parliament, or possibly the Rules Committee, to deal with this. If we limited damages for wrongful arrest to cases of malice or gross negligence, he said, it would be inconsistent to give a remedy for arrest not fulfilling these criteria.

In Natwest Markets Plc v Stallion Eight Shipping Co. SA, (the ship MV ALKYON) [2018] EWHC 2033 (Admlty) a bank mortgagee arrested alleging a LTV default; the owner denied default. Unable to secure release by putting up further security, it sought release unless the bank put up security for any losses it suffered in case the bank was wrong. The arrest was, consistently with the above, maintained.

Oil spill in EEZ. Rights of coastal state to instigate proceedings against offending vessel.

 

 

In The Bosphorus Queen Case C-15/17, ECLI:EU:C:2018:557, the CJEU has ruled on the interpretation of art. 220(6) of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) in relation to the rights of a coastal state to initiate proceedings against a vessel arising out of pollution in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The vessel spilt oil on the edge of Finland’s EEZ and on its return through the Finnish EEZ it was detained and required to provide security to cover the amount of a possible fine for the spill. A fine of 17,112 Euros was subsequently imposed on the ground that the spill had caused  major damage to or a threat of major damage to Finland’s coastline or related interests, or to resources of its territorial sea or EEZ. In the event the oil spilt did not reach the coastline, caused no damage, and no counter-measures were taken.

The CJEU held:(1) The EU as a party to UNCLOS, had jurisdiction to interpret its provisions. UNCLOS had primacy over secondary EU legislation. The EU was not a party to the 1969 Intervention Convention but could take account of it as it formed part of the relevant rules for interpreting UNCLOS.

(2) The relevant EU legislation was art.7(2) of Directive 2005/35 which incorporated  into EU law the provisions of art.220(6) with almost identical wording, and had to be interpreted in accordance with art. 220(6).

(3) Article.220(6) provides: “ Where there is clear objective evidence that a vessel navigating in the [EEZ] or the territorial sea of a State has, in the [EEZ], committed a violation referred to in paragraph 3 resulting in a discharge causing major damage or threat of major damage to the coastline or related interests of the coastal State, or to any resources of its territorial sea or [EEZ], that State may, subject to section 7, provided that the evidence so warrants, institute proceedings, including detention of the vessel, in accordance with its laws.” Paragraph 3 of art.220 refers to “violations of applicable international rules and standards for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution from vessels or laws and regulations of that State conforming and giving effect to such rules and standards.”

The coastal state’s powers under paragraph 6 were subject to clear objective evidence both  of the commission of a violation under paragraph 3 and also of the consequences of that violation.

(4) The reference to ‘coastline or related interests’ in art. 220(6) and art 7(2) of Dir 2005/35 could be interpreted as having the same meaning as the definition of these terms in art II(4) of the 1969 Intervention Convention, bearing in mind UNCLOS also applied to non-living resources. ‘Resources’ referred to harvested species and living species associated with them or which depended on them.

(5) It was not necessary to take account of the concept of ‘significant pollution’ referred to in art. 220(5) when assessing the consequences of a violation under art. 220(6). In assessing the extent of damage caused or threatened to the resources or related interests of the coastal state account should be taken of, inter alia,

– the cumulative nature of the damage on several or all of those resources and related interests and the difference in sensitivity of the coastal State with regard to damage to its various resources and related interests;

–  the foreseeable harmful consequences of discharge on those resources and related interests, not only on the basis of the available scientific data, but also with regard to the nature of the harmful substance(s) contained in the discharge concerned and the volume, direction, speed and the period of time over which the oil spill spreads .

The specific geographical and ecological characteristics and sensitivity of the Baltic Sea area have an effect on the conditions of applicability of Article 220(6) would have an effect on this assessment.

(6) Although art 1(2) of Dir 2005/35 allowed Member States to impose more stringent measures, it did not allow them to impose more stringent measures in accordance with international law that those laid down in Article 7(2) which authorised coastal states to take measures equivalent in scope to those laid down in Art. 220(6).

14th IISTL Colloquium on New Technologies and Shipping/Trade Law

Sponsored by 

The Institute’s 14th Annual Colloquium will be held on 10-11 September 2018. The subject of this year’s event is new technologies and their present and future effect on shipping and trade law.

14th IISTL Colloquium

To register for this event, please visit our Eventbrite page.

Continue reading “14th IISTL Colloquium on New Technologies and Shipping/Trade Law”

Autonomous Ships- Regulatory Work Begins

The idea of developing smart ships that have ability to navigate without human input has been around for some time and as a result of technological developments in recent years, it is believed that this could be a reality in near future.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) at its most recent meeting (MSC 99) in May 2018 agreed to establish a Working Group (WC) (named as Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) WC) to undertake a scoping exercise with a view to identifying which of the existing international instruments dealing with maritime safety should be amended and what new instruments should be developed to facilitate the operation of such vessels in international waters.

For the purposes of this exercise, a number of provisional definitions have been prescribed. Most significantly, MASS is defined as “a ship which, to varying degree, can operate independent of human interaction”. This is a very broad definition and encompasses all of the ships that are currently under consideration. The WG has prescribed four degrees of autonomy: (MSC 99/WP.9 Annex 1, para 4)

  1. Ship with automated processes and decision support. Such ships have on board seafarers to operate and control shipboard systems and functions.
  2. Remotely controlled ships with seafarers on board. The ship is controlled and operated from a distant location.
  3. Remotely controlled ships without seafarers on board. The ship is controlled and operated from a distant location.
  4. Fully autonomous ships. Here, the operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The categorisation seems to be rather basic but perhaps simplicity is necessary at this early stage. We suppose in case of (ii), it is envisaged that seafarers on board will have technical knowledge and knowhow to intervene and take control in case of an emergency. It is also worth noting that ever increasing cyber risks should be taken into account and especially in case of (iii), it is curious to know what steps can be taken to ensure that the safety is not compromised in a case where contact between the ship and offshore operator is lost. This could be also a significant issue with regard to vessels which have full autonomy (e.g. iv).

It is worth reminding ourselves that the scope of this exercise is restricted to instruments concerning maritime safety (i.e. COLREG 1972, SOLAS 1974, STCW 1974, SAR 1979 and International Convention on Loadlines 1966). Once smart ships become operational other problems, i.e. the liability of manufacturers/software producers, impact of cyber risks on traditional division of liability, salvage law, are also likely to arise. These issues do not form at this stage part of the IMO’s work on the subject.

It is expected that the work of the MASS WC will be completed by the end of 2020. Even then, this is only beginning of a long journey. It will possibly take another decade or so to formulate new legal rules and amend existing ones to enable autonomous ships to engage in cross-border commercial operations. However, as Lao Tzu once famously said:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.

Please note that smart ships will form part of the discussion in our 14th Annual Colloquium to be held on 10-11 September 2018:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/new-technologies-and-shippingtrade-law-tickets-46148370017

 

US 2nd Circuit: bunker arrests clarified

Bunkers are supplied through a complex chain of suppliers. If you order a stem the outfit you order from will almost certainly not deliver them. Instead it will arrange directly or at one or more removes for a third party to do so, the bunkers being bought in down the line.

Arrest for bunkers is big business in the US, since there you can arrest the ship for the debts of the time-charterer who bunkers her (which you can’t in England unless the owner is also personally liable, which is unlikely). But who can arrest? The person the bunkers were ordered from or the person who pumped them on board? It turns on who “supplied” the bunkers under the relevant section of CIMLA, the maritime lien legislation. In a decision a couple of days ago arising from the OW debacle, ING Bank v The MV Temara 16-3923(L), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has straightened out who this is: it’s the entity the charterer or shipowner contracted with, not the physical supplier.

And quite right too. The physical supplier here had voluntarily given credit to the uncreditworthy (OW) and supplied the bunkers to its order; it deserved no proprietary claim against the ship. Whereas the person who contracted with the ship had supplied the bunkers to the orders of the charterer. The fact that it had done so through a third party was beside the point.

Thanks to our friends at the Maritime Advocate for the heads-up.