Anti-suit injunction against non-party to contract

Qingdao Huiquan Shipping Company v Shanghai Dong He Xin Industry Group Co Ltd  QBD [2018] EWHC 3009 (Comm) involved a claim for an anti-suit injunction against a non-party to a contract containing a submission to English law and London arbitration. Owners concluded a settlement with cargo receivers whereby the latter paid for the lifting of a lien over cargo which the owners had exercised following time charterers’ default in paying h ire. The agreement was subject to English law and provided for London arbitration. The settlement provided that the receivers authorised agent, SDHX, which was not a party to the agreement, would make the payment. Three years later SDHX sued owners in a Chinese court claiming repayment of those sums. It alleged that there was an oral agreement between itself and the owners. In December 2017 the Qindao Shinan District Court decided that the dispute constituted a maritime dispute, and that the matter should be transferred to the Qingdao Maritime Court to decide on the validity of the London arbitration clause. SDHX’s appeal was dismissed by the Qindao Intermediate Maritime Court which stated that one of the foundations of SDHX’s claim was the settlement agreement between owners and the receivers.

In August 2018 owners applied for an interim anti-suit injunction. Bryan J held that this was an appropriate cased where such an injunction could be obtained against a non-party to the contract. SDHX had sought to rely upon the terms of the Settlement Agreement in advancing its claims in the Chinese proceedings. In doing so, therefore, it had to take the burden of the arbitration clause. For the purpose of the interim relief claim the issue of whether there was an oral agreement with the owners did not need to be considered. SDHX were unable to show that there had been such excessive delay by owners in commencing proceedings that the court should not exercise its discretion. This was not a case involving considerations of comity or where there had been substantive proceedings in China which would lead to the English court second-guessing an existing ruling of a Chinese court. There was also some benefit from the clarity that had been provided by the Chinese appellate court.

Bully off. New amendments to Maritime Labour Convention now in effect.

 

On 8 January 2019 the 2016 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention came into effect. These amend Guideline B4.3.1 concerning the provisions on occupational accidents, injuries and diseases so as to include harassment and bullying. Governments and shipowners are expected to adopt measures to improve protection for seafarers from shipboard harassment and bullying using as a reference the Guidance on Eliminating Shipboard Harassment and Bullying  jointly published by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Chamber of Shipping. The amendments also allow for an extension of the validity of maritime labour certificates in circumstances where ships have passed the relevant inspection but where a new certificate cannot immediately be issued and made available on board.

Clearing up after a marine casualty: comfortable words from the Advocate-General.

As a matter of EU law, moving waste across borders can be an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. Regulation 1013/2006 on waste shipments lays down all sorts of notification, insurance, and other requirements that must be satisfied before any such shipment can take place.

The German owners of the MSC Flaminia got a taste of this in 2012. En route from Charleston to Antwerp with a cargo of nearly 5000 containers, including 151 stated to contain dangerous cargo, the vessel suffered a fire and a number of explosions. These left her in an unholy mess, with quantities of scrap metal, possibly contaminated sludge and water used to put out the fire slopping about everywhere. She ran for Wilhelmshaven and made arrangements for cleaning-up operations in Romania. The German environmental authorities then said “Not so fast”, arguing that all the rigmarole of the waste shipments directive had to be gone through. The owners argued that the exception in Art.1(3)(b) applied, which excises from the Regulation “waste generated on board vehicles, trains, aeroplanes and ships, until such waste is offloaded in order to be recovered or disposed of.” The government argued that this did not cover waste created by a casualty outside normal ship operations; a Munich court duly sent the issue to the ECJ.

The Advocate-General’s opinion came down clearly for the shipowners: there was no specific exception for waste arising from an accident or casualty, and no need to imply one. One suspects the ECJ will follow suit. The relief for shipowners is likely to be considerable: it means that cleaning-up operations can now proceed smoothly wherever is easiest. And a good thing too.

See Schifffahrts GmbH MSC Flaminia v Land Niedersachsen (Case C698/17), as ever available on BAILII (unfortunately in French).

Ship arrest: no undertaking in damages exigible from arresting party

The Court of Appeal declined yesterday to upset the ship arrest apple-cart. In The Alkyon [2018] EWCA Civ 2760 it upheld the decision of the Admiralty Judge, Teare J, noted here on this blog, that a bank could hold an arrest over a mortgaged ship without having to give any undertaking to pay damages for loss of use should it turn out that its claim was ill-founded. The owners of the MV Alkyon, a 36,000 dwt bulker, had argued that there was no default justifying her arrest in Newcastle; that they could not afford to bail her; that her immobilisation by arrest would cause them big losses; and that it was only fair that if the bank was indeed wrong, it should carry the can for those losses.

Despite the fact that there is theoretically no restriction on the court’s discretion to release an arrested vessel (see CPR 61.8(4)(b)), Teare J disagreed; and the Court of Appeal agreed with him. Although there was much in common between ship arrest and freezing orders, where an undertaking in damages was emphatically the rule, for the court to demand such an undertaking in arrest cases would  cut across the idea that arrest was available as of right, and also the established principle that liability for wrongful arrest could not be imposed unless the claimant proved bad faith or possibly gross negligence. This was not something for the judiciary — barring possibly the Supreme Court — to do.

In the view of this blog, the Court of Appeal was quite right not to draw the analogy with freezing orders. For one thing not all arresters are plutocratic banks: think crewmen seeking wages or damages for injury on board, or for that matter suppliers of canned food and water for those crewmen to eat and drink. For another, the right to arrest is there for a purpose, namely to assure people that they will be paid by the owners of peripatetic pieces of maritime machinery: to allow a threat to arrest to be met with a threat to claim damages would not further this end. For a third, damages for arrest may well bear no proportion to the amount of the claim: the losses caused by the arrest of a large bulker or reefer would be likely to dwarf a straightforward $100,000 bunkers debt. And lastly, it’s all very well saying a single arrester ought to carry the can for immobilisation losses: but what if cautions against release then pile on? Which of the undeserving claimants should have to pay how much? Nice work for lawyers, maybe: less good news for shipping claimants who want to get on with their commercial lives.

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.