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.

His last bow. As Teare(s) go by.

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.[298].”

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.   

IISTL Member (Simon Rainey QC) Has Argued in Historical Collision Case

Evergreen Marine (UK) Limited (Appellant) v Nautical Challenge Ltd (Respondent)

This is the first collision case to reach the highest court on land since 1976. This appeal concerns the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, as amended (“the Collision Regulations”). The issues in the appeal are:

(1) The proper construction of the Collision Regulations. In particular whether the crossing rules are inapplicable, or whether they should they be disapplied where an outbound vessel is navigating within a narrow channel and has a vessel on her port (or starboard) bow on a crossing course approaching a narrow channel with the intention of and in preparation for entering it.

(2) On the proper construction of the Collision Regulations, in determining whether the crossing rules are applicable, whether there is a requirement for the putative give-way vessel to be on a steady course before the crossing rules can be engaged.

Facts

This appeal concerns a collision at sea between the appellant’s vessel (“EVER SMART”) and the respondent’s vessel (“ALEXANDRA 1”). The collision took place on 11 February 2015 just outside the dredged channel by which vessels enter and exit the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. ALEXANDRA 1 was inbound; EVER SMART was outward bound. The damage suffered by ALEXANDRA 1 amounted to over US$9.3 million and the damage suffered by EVER SMART amounted to over US$2.5 million.

The Admiralty Court determined that the appellant’s vessel, EVER SMART, should bear 80% of the liability for the collision and the respondent’s vessel, ALEXANDRA 1, should bear 20%. The judge held that the crossing rules (Rules 15-17 of the Collision Regulations) did not apply and therefore that ALEXANDRA 1 did not navigate in breach of Rule 16, the crossing rule which was said by the appellant to have applied to the ALEXANDRA 1. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Appellant’s appeal [2018] EWCA Civ 2173. The Appellant now appeals to the Supreme Court.

Damage to Alexandra 1’s bow

Intransigent defendants: Prestige 4.0

Most parties who lose English court cases or arbitrations give in (relatively) gracefully. In the long and ongoing Prestige saga, however (already well documented in this blog: see here, here, here, and here), the French and Spanish governments have chosen to fight tooth and nail, something that is always apt to give rise to interesting legal points. Last Friday’s episode before Butcher J (SS Mutual v Spain [2020] EWHC 1920 (Comm)) was no exception, though in the event nothing particularly novel in the way of law emerged.

To recap, nearly twenty years ago the laden tanker Prestige sank off northern Spain, grievously polluting the French and Spanish coasts. Steamship Mutual, the vessel’s P&I Club, accepted that it might be potentially liable to direct suit up to the CLC limit, but pointed out that its cover was governed by English law, contained a “pay to be paid” clause and required arbitration in London. Nothing daunted, the French and Spanish governments came in as parties civiles when the owners and master were prosecuted in Spain, and claimed their full losses. The Club meanwhile protected its position by obtaining declaratory arbitration awards in England against both governments that all claims against it had to be arbitrated here; for good measure it then successfully transmuted these awards into High Court judgments under s.66 of the 1996 Arbitration Act (see The Prestige (No 2) [2013] EWHC 3188 (Comm). These decisions the French and Spanish governments blithely ignored, however; instead they took proceedings in Spain to execute the judgments they had obtained there.

In the present litigation, the Club’s claim (slightly simplified) was against both governments for damages for continuing the Spanish proceedings, based either on breach of the arbitration agreement, or in the alternative on failure to act in accordance with the s.66 judgments. The object, unsurprisingly, was to establish an equal and opposite liability to meet any claim asserted by the governments under their judgments in the Spanish proceedings.

The Club sought service out on the French and Spanish governments: the latter resisted, arguing that they were entitled to state immunity, and that in any case the court had no jurisdiction.

On the state immunity point, the Club succeeded in defeating the governments’ arguments. The proceedings for breach of the arbitration agreement were covered by the exception in s.9 of the State Immunity Act 1978 as actions “related to” an arbitration agreement binding on the governments. Importantly, Butcher J regarded it as unimportant that the proceedings did not relate to the substantive matter agreed to be arbitrated, and that the governments might be bound not by direct agreement but only in equity on the basis that they were third parties asserting rights arising from a contract containing an arbitration clause.

The proceedings on the judgments, by contrast, were not “related to” the arbitration agreement under s.9: understandably so, since they were based on failure to give effect to a judgment, the connection to arbitration being merely a background issue. But no matter: they were covered by another exception, that in s.3(1)(a), on the basis that the breach alleged – suing in the teeth of an English judgment that they had no right to do so – was undoubtedly a “commercial transaction” as defined by that section.

The judge declined to decide on a further argument now moot: namely, whether suing abroad in breach of an English arbitration agreement was a breach of a contractual obligation to be performed in England within the exception contained in s.3(1)(b) of the 1978 Act. But the betting, in the view of this blog, must be that that exception would have been inapplicable: there is a big and entirely logical difference between a duty not to do something other than in England, and an obligation actually to do (or omit to do) something in England, which is what s.3(1)(b) requires.

State immunity disposed of, did the court have jurisdiction over these two governments? Here the holding was yes, but only partly. The claim based on the s.66 judgments was, it was held, subject not only to the Brussels I Recast Regulation but to its very restrictive insurance provisions dealing with claims against injured parties (even, note, where the claims were being brought, as some were in the case of Spain, under rights of subrogation). Since the governments of France and Spain were ex hypothesi not domiciled in England, but in their respective realms, there could be no jurisdiction against them.

On the other hand, the claims based on the obligations stemming from the arbitration award were, it was held, within the arbitration exception to Brussels I, and thus outside it and subject to the national rules in CPR, PD6B. The only serious question, given that the arbitration gateway under PD6B 3.1(10) or the “contract governed by English law” gateway under PD6B 3.1(6)(c) pretty clearly applied, was whether there was a serious issue to be tried as to liability in damages. Here Butcher J had no doubt that there was, even if the governments were not directly party to the agreements and the awards had been technically merely declaratory of the Club’s rights. It followed that service out should be allowed in respect of the award claims.

Further than this his Lordship did not go, for the very good reason that he had no need to. But in our view the better position is that indeed there would in principle be liability under the award claims. If, as is now clear, an injunction is available on equitable grounds to prevent suit in the teeth of an arbitration clause by a third party despite the lack of any direct agreement by the latter, there seems no reason why there should not also be an ability to an award of damages, if only under Lord Cairns’s Act (now the Senior Courts Act 1981, s.50). Further, there seems no reason why there should not be a an implied obligation not to ignore even a declaratory award by suing in circumstances where it has declared suit barred.

For final answers to these questions we shall have to await another decision. Such a decision might even indeed come in the present proceedings, if the intransigence of the French and Spanish governments continues.

One other point to note. The UK may be finally extricating itself from the toils of the EU at the end of this year. But that won’t mark the end of this saga. Nor indeed will it mark the end of the Brussels regime on jurisdiction, since the smart money is on Brussels I being replaced with the Lugano Convention, which is in fairly similar terms. You can’t throw away your EU law notes quite yet.

Careful who you sell that ship to!

Safety in ship recycling has been a priority of the EU for more than seven years. Under EU Regulation 1257/2013, in force since 2018, there is a complex system of EU approval of ship recycling facilities, it being illegal to send an EU-registered ship for recycling to an unapproved facility (meaning as often as not a not-very-deserted beach in India or Bangladesh, where she is broken up essentially by hand). This Regulation is to be retained EU law post-Brexit, though from the end of this year it will be significantly narrowed, in that it will only apply to UK-registered vessels (i.e. pretty few).

But quite a lot of ship recycling is outside the regulation. A case in point was the Maran Centaurus, a vessel previously in the news as the victim of a high-profile Somali hijacking in 2009 that led to payment of a then-record ransom of about $7 million. Owned by Greek interests, at the end of her life she was reflagged to Palau and sold to a buyer for demolition, who in turn resold her to a beachside Bangladeshi concern. During demolition a worker operating in very dangerous conditions was killed. His widow rightly concluded that the demolishers were not worth powder and shot. She instead sued the owner’s managing agents, a UK company who acting under the owners’ instructions had arranged the sale, alleging that it should have been foreseeable that unless they took steps to ensure that the vessel ended up in the hands of responsible breakers she would be broken up — as she was — without any serious regard for worker safety. The agents denied fault and applied for a strikeout, on the basis that a seller of a ship owed no duty in respect of dangerous practices that might later occur in relation to her. This was not, they said, a case of damage caused by hazardous materials aboard the vessel injuring a worker: there was nothing more here than a sale indirectly to a person likely to have a less than satisfactory attitude to industrial safety.

This writer has quite a lot of sympathy for this view. But in Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) Jay J declined a strikeout, regarding it as highly arguable that, despite the vessel herself not being unusually hazardous, this was a case where the defendants had created a foreseeable risk of harm and as such potentially owed a duty of care to the worker concerned.

Note that this is not a holding that there was a duty of care: merely that the argument that there was one wasn’t a non-starter. Nevertheless, it should worry shipowners everywhere (and cause them to check on their insurance coverage). It might even extend further: for example, what of a shipowner who sells (or bareboat charters) a vessel to an operator known to have a dodgy safety record: the logic of the Maran case seems to apply here too, and if it is followed we cannot rule out liability in the seller or owner.

Admittedly the if might be a biggish one. We said that we had sympathy for the defendant’s argument. The chances are that this case will now settle so we won’t ever get a final answer here. But the defendants’ case is strong. The case for making owners responsible for policing the safety records of disponees is by no means obvious, any mote than it is obvious that in selling my car I should have to take care lest the buyer is a known drink driver. It may well be worth fighting this issue again if, as seems highly likely, it comes back to the English courts in another case.

Are your bunkers ‘necessaries’? Not if you are carrying them as cargo says US Fifth Circuit.

The Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act (“CIMLA”), 46 U.S.C. §§ 31301–31343, provides that a person may obtain a maritime lien against a vessel by providing it with “necessaries.” In Martin Energy L.L.C v Bourbon Petrel MV, yet another case involving the OWB collapse, the Fifth Circuit has considered the issue of  “necessaries” in a claim by the physical bunker supplier against support vessels that took on bunkers as cargo, for refuelling seismic survey vessels off the Louisiana coast.

The District Court had found that the supplier had a maritime lien over the supply vessels. The court reasoned that two of the support vessels, served as “floating gas stations” for the seismic Vessels and that the fuel was “necessary” for the support Vessels to perform this function. Similarly, the court reasoned the fuel was “necessary” for the third support Vessel, to function as an “offshore supply vessel,” transporting fuel, equipment, and personnel to the Seismic Vessels.

The Fifth Circuit has reversed that finding. Fuel may be “necessary” to a vessel if it fuels the vessel. But the fuel transported by the support vessels was for refuelling other vessels and was not “necessary” to the support vessels.

Of weekend sailors, docks and marinas.

Decisions that amuse law professors often end up as footnotes in law books because they’re not very significant in the great run of things. One suspects this is true of Teare J’s erudite judgment about marinas today in Holyhead Marina Ltd v Farrer [2020] EWHC 1750 (Admlty), but it’s still worth a short note.

Holyhead marina, like most marinas, is a floating labyrinth of wooden pontoons and walkways designed to cram in as many weekend sailors’ prides and joys as it can. A couple of years ago it was hit by Storm Emma and boats moored there suffered over £5 m worth of damage. The hull insurers sued, whereupon the marina raised the issue of limitation, claiming that under s.191 of the MSA 1995 it could limit liability to a fairly piddling sum based on the limitation figure applicable to the largest vessel (yacht) that had visited it in the previous five years.

This gave rise to the first issue: the right to limit was limited to “docks”. Was a marina, an erection that floated on water rather than solid land that abutted it, a “dock” — a term that included “wet docks and basins, tidal docks and basins, locks, cuts, entrances, dry docks, graving docks, gridirons, slips, quays, wharves, piers, stages, landing places and jetties”? Teare J had no doubt that it was, despite its relative insubstantiality and lack of any connection with commercial shipping. We suggest that this must be right. True, a mere buoy or dolphin shouldn’t be a dock, but beyond that essentially anywhere where vessels can tie up and people can board and disembark should be included. It is useful to have confirmation that s.191 will be generously construed, and technical pettifogging about the definition of a dock discouraged. Insurers now know where they stand.

A few minor points. First, the hull insurers argued that Holyhead was guilty of conduct breaking limitation. Although Teare J refused to strike out this plea as hopeless, he was clearly very sceptical of it, again one suspects with reason. Secondly, the hull insurers advanced a hopeful argument that because the marina was in vhf contact with users all over Holyhead Port, its limit fell to be reckoned by that applicable to the large Irish Sea ferry that visited the port. This received short shrift: what mattered was the area of which the marina was in effective physical or legal control.

Thirdly, an interesting question: why didn’t the marina have a clause limiting its liability to the yacht owners who used it under contract? Or did it, but was it sceptical of the ability of such a clause to withstand scrutiny under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (yachtsmen being consumers)? It’s likely we’ll never know. But marinas up and down the kingdom, together with their liability insurers, might do well to look through their standard contract terms, if they wish to avoid having to argue the toss in future about an obscure provision in the Merchant Shipping Act.

BIMCO COVID-19 Crew Change Clause – An Attempt to Facilitate Crew Changes

On 25 June, BIMCO announced the publication of their novel COVID-19 Crew Change Clause for Time Charter Parties. The clause provides shipowners with the right to deviate for crew changes ‘if COVID-19 related restrictions prevent crew changes from being conducted at the ports or places to which the vessel has been ordered or within the scheduled period of call’. Shipowners can exercise their right to deviate by giving charterers a written notice as soon as reasonably possible. The crew change costs will rest on shipowners, unless shipowners and charterers agree that the vessel will remain on hire during the deviation period, but at a reduced rate. In such case, the cost of bunkers consumed will be shared equally between shipowners and charterers.

With more than 200,000 seafarers currently working on board after the expiry of their contracts of employment, the COVID-19 Crew Change Clause at least ensures that shipowners can sail to those few ports were crew changes are possible, without facing the risk of breaching their contractual obligations under time charters. It should be noted, however, that this is not a panacea to the issue of crew changes. Recognising seafarers as ‘keyworkers’ and designating ports where crew changes can take place safely following the Protocols designed by the IMO (Circular Letter No 4204/Add 14 (5 May 2020) should remain a priority. 

Prestige 3.0 — the saga continues

The Spanish government and SS Mutual are clearly digging in for the long haul over the Prestige pollution debacle eighteen years ago. To recap, the vessel at the time of the casualty was entered with the club under a contract containing a pay to be paid provision and a London arbitration clause. Spain prosecuted the master and owners and, ignoring the arbitration provision, came in as partie civile and recovered a cool $1 bn directly from the club in the Spanish courts. The club meanwhile obtained an arbitration award in London saying that the claim against it had to be arbitrated not litigated, which it enforced under s.66 of the AA 1996 and then used in an attempt to stymie Spain’s bid to register and enforce its court judgment here under Brussels I (a bid now the subject of proceedings timed for this coming December).

In the present proceedings, London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v Spain (M/T PRESTIGE) [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) the club sought essentially to reconvene the arbitration to obtain from the tribunal an ASI against Spain and/or damages for breach of the duty to arbitrate and/or abide by the previous award, covering such things as its costs in the previous s.66 proceedings. By way of machinery it sought to serve out under s 18 of the 1996 Act. Spain claimed sovereign immunity and said these further claims were not arbitrable.

The immunity claim nearly succeeded, but fell at the last fence. There was, Henshaw J said, no agreement to arbitrate under s.9 of the State Immunity Act 1978, which would have sidelined immunity: Spain might be bound not to raise the claim except in arbitration under the principle in The Yusuf Cepnioglu [2016] EWCA Civ 386, but this did not amount to an agreement to arbitrate. Nor was there, on the facts, any submission within s.2. However, he then decided that s.3, the provision about taking part in commercial activities, was applicable and allowed Spain to be proceeded against.

Having disposed of the sovereign immunity point, it remained to see whether the orders sought against Spain — an ASI or damages — were available in the arbitration. Henshaw J thought it well arguable that they were. Although Spain could not be sued for breach of contract, since it had never in so many words promised not to sue the club, it was arguable that neither Brussels I nor s.13 of the 1978 Act barred the ASI claim in the arbitration, and that if an ASI might be able to be had, then there must be at least a possibility of damages in equity under Lord Cairns’s Act.

No doubt there will be an appeal. But this decision gives new hope to P&I and other interests faced with opponents who choose, even within the EU, to treat London arbitration agreements as inconsequential pieces of paper to be ignored with comparative immunity.