Canada asks: can a shipowner claim costs and expenses when they caused the oil pollution and were the only ship involved? (Spoiler alert: no)

At the end of August, the Canadian Federal Court dismissed a statutory appeal made by Haida Tourism Limited Partnership (Haida) against a decision of the Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) Administrator. In doing so, it raised a few interesting points and gave us an excuse to take a quick look at one of the more claimant-protective ship-source oil pollution damage compensation regimes out there.

Facts:

On 08 September 2018, the Tasu I – an accommodation barge owned and operated by Haida – came loose from its mooring buoy in Alliford Bay, Haidi Fwaii, and drifted to a grounding point in Bearskin Bay on Lina Island, BC, Canada, where it released a mixture of gasoline and/or diesel. Haida contacted the Canadian Coast Guard about the incident and attempted to assuage the oil pollution damage caused by the grounding.

In late December 2018, Haida submitted a claim to the SOPF – pursuant to s103(1) of the Marine Liability Act SC 2001 c6 (MLA) – to recuperate the costs and expenses it incurred as a result of its mitigation efforts. They claimed the Tasu I’s mooring lines had been intentionally and wilfully tampered with by a third party, with the intent to cause harm, thereby providing Haida with a defence against liability under s77(3)(b) MLA. In early August 2021, the SOPF’s Administrator denied the claim and Haida appealed. 

The appeal did not assess the validity of the defence put forward in the initial claim (or other factual matters), but focussed on a question of law, specifically, on the interpretation of s103 of the MLA and whether it permits a right of recovery for costs and expenses by the shipowner when such costs and expenses are incurred as a result of preventing, repairing, remedying or minimizing potential oil pollution damage when the incident has been caused solely by the shipowner’s own ship.

Haida

Canadian law:

The Marine Liability Act 2001 addresses matters of maritime claims and liability. Of relevance to the appeal were Parts 6 and 7, which address liability and compensation for oil pollution damage, and the SOPF, respectively.

Division 1 of Part 6 gives several ship-source pollution conventions the force of law in Canada, including the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001 (Bunker Convention), the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992, (CLC) and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 (Fund Convention).

The CLC imposes a capped, strict liability regime upon the shipowner of oil tankers/vessels adapted for the carriage of oil that cause oil pollution damage. In situations where the shipowner does not pay (because they are unable to/have reached the liability cap/ benefit from a defence), victims are able to seek compensation via a fund set up by the Fund Convention.

The Bunker Convention – which is similar in nature to the CLC but applies to pollution damage caused by spills from any seagoing vessel’s bunker oil (rather than cargo oil) – has no equivalent fund or Fund Convention.

Part 6, Division 2 concerns itself with liability that has not been covered by the international conventions incorporated into law by Division 1. Of particular note is s77 MLA, which – subject to some limited exceptions – imposes strict liability on a shipowner for oil pollution damage from their ship (s77(1)(a)), as well as for the costs and expenses incurred by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (a response organization under the Canada Shipping Act 2001), or any other person in Canada, in respect of measures taken to prevent, repair, remedy or minimize oil pollution damage from the ship, including measures taken in anticipation of a discharge of oil from it, to the extent that the measures taken and the costs and expenses are reasonable, and for any loss or damage caused by those measures (s77(1)(b)).

Liability for pollution and related costs

77 (1) The owner of a ship is liable

a) for oil pollution damage from the ship;

b) the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in respect of measures taken under paragraph 180(1)(a) of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, in respect of any monitoring under paragraph 180(1)(b) of that Act or in relation to any direction given under paragraph 180(1)(c) of that Act to the extent that the measures taken and the costs and expenses are reasonable, and for any loss or damage caused by those measures, or any other person in respect of the measures that they were directed to take or refrain from taking under paragraph 180(1)(c) of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to the extent that the measures taken and the costs and expenses are reasonable, and for any loss or damage caused by those measures; and

(c) in relation to pollutants, for the costs and expenses incurred by

i. the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in respect of measures taken under paragraph 180(1)(a) of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, in respect of any monitoring under paragraph 180(1)(b) of that Act or in relation to any direction given under paragraph 180(1)(c) of that Act to the extent that the measures taken and the costs and expenses are reasonable, and for any loss or damage caused by those measures, or

ii. any other person in respect of the measures that they were directed to take or refrain from taking under paragraph 180(1)(c) of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to the extent that the measures taken and the costs and expenses are reasonable, and for any loss or damage caused by those measures.

Part 7 lays out the specifics of the SOPF, which was set up as a fund of first recourse, providing an extra layer of protection to ship-source oil spill victims by compensating them in situations where a shipowner is either unable to do so, refuses to do so or is not obliged to do so, irrespective of whether any of the above conventions apply (s101)[1]. The SOPF is a unique feature in oil pollution damage compensation, combining the benefits of the CLC regime and the American one – the USA, not being a party to the CLC, set up a similar regime (encompassed in its Oil Pollution Act 1990), including a fund which covered situations akin to those compensable under the Fund Convention, as well as situations outside of it.

Canada’s Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund does not cap its limits and includes pay outs for pure economic loss.

Liability of Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund

101(1) Subject to the other provisions of this Part, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund is liable in relation to oil for the matters referred to in sections 51, 71 and 77, Article III of the Civil Liability Convention and Article 3 of the Bunkers Convention in respect of any kind of loss, damage, costs or expenses — including economic loss caused by oil pollution suffered by persons whose property has not been polluted — if

a) all reasonable steps have been taken to recover payment of compensation from the owner of the ship or, in the case of a ship within the meaning of Article I of the Civil Liability Convention, from the International Fund and the Supplementary Fund, and those steps have been unsuccessful;

b) the owner of a ship is not liable by reason of any of the defences described in subsection 77(3), Article III of the Civil Liability Convention or Article 3 of the Bunkers Convention and neither the International Fund nor the Supplementary Fund are liable;

c) the claim exceeds

i) in the case of a ship within the meaning of Article I of the Civil Liability Convention, the owner’s maximum liability under that Convention to the extent that the excess is not recoverable from the International Fund or the Supplementary Fund, and

ii) in the case of any other ship, the owner’s maximum liability under Part 3;

d) the owner is financially incapable of meeting their obligations under section 51 and Article III of the Civil Liability Convention, to the extent that the obligation is not recoverable from the International Fund or the Supplementary Fund;

e) the owner is financially incapable of meeting their obligations under section 71 and Article 3 of the Bunkers Convention;

f) the owner is financially incapable of meeting their obligations under section 77;

g) the cause of the oil pollution damage is unknown and the Administrator has been unable to establish that the occurrence that gave rise to the damage was not caused by a ship; or

h) the Administrator is a party to a settlement under section 109.

Section 103(1) permits the filing of claims by persons suffering loss or damage or incurred costs or expenses in respect of actual or anticipated oil pollution damage, against the Administrator of the SOPF for such loss, damage, costs or expenses. This right is in addition to those granted to claimants under s101.

Claims filed with Administrator

103 (1) In addition to any right against the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund under section 101, a person may file a claim with the Administrator for the loss, damage, costs or expenses if the person has suffered loss or damage, or incurred costs or expenses, referred to in section 5171 or 77, Article III of the Civil Liability Convention or Article 3 of the Bunkers Convention in respect of any kind of loss, damage, costs or expenses arising out of actual or anticipated oil pollution damage, including economic loss caused by oil pollution suffered by persons whose property has not been polluted.

The appeal:

Haida initially framed its claim under s101, being based on the view that they needed to satisfy one of the criteria under s101 before being able to proceed with s103. It was noted in the initial decision made by the Administrator against Haida that ss101 and 103 were separate and independent mechanisms for claims and that requiring the establishment of criteria in s101 in order to proceed with a s103 claim contradicts the express wording, “in addition to any rights against the [SOPF] under s101,” and would also reduce access to justice by imposing additional burdens on the claimant. Haida had been permitted to recategorize their claim under s103(1) and thus argue that the provision did not preclude a shipowner from making a claim for costs and expenses in situations where they had a defence to liability. Additionally, ‘liability of the shipowner’ and ‘costs and expenses’ were separate under s77.

Even with the permitted re-categorisation, the Administrator viewed this interpretation as problematic for several reasons.

First, the Administrator (sensibly) did not believe that s103’s reference to art 3 of the Bunker Convention (which expressly imposes liability on the shipowner for pollution damage) was intended by its drafters to sever shipowner liability from loss, damage, costs and expenses. And since a shipowner is incapable of being liable to itself, the Administrator did not believe it was possible for Haida to make its claim under s103 by using art 3 of the Bunker Convention.

Secondly, s77’s express reference to costs and expenses could not be divorced from shipowner liability when the provision was read in its full context – it is perfectly possible for a shipowner to suffer losses (including costs and expenses) when their ship is damaged in an oil spill incident, but not under s77(a)-(c) as that would result in the shipowner being liable to itself. For this reason, s77 could also not be used by Haida for its claim under s103(1).

The Federal Court agreed with this interpretation and further pointed out that simply benefitting from a defence from strict liability under s101 did permit a claim for costs and expenses under s103(1) as they were distinct claims processes. In addition, when investigating and assessing a s103(1) claim, the Administrator is restricted to considering only two factors (s105(1)). Neither of these two factors involve consideration of a shipowner’s defence to its strict liability, and when viewed within the overall context of Parts 6 and 7, the obvious and correct conclusion of s103(1) not creating a right for a shipowner to recover costs and expenses incurred during damage mitigation in an incident was correct.


[1]  Where a shipowner is liable but does not pay out, the Administrator settles the claims and then subrogates the claimants’ rights in order to pursue the shipowner. They are also able to commence actions in rem either against the ship or the proceeds from the sale of the ship (s102).

The Prestige, 20 years on. CJEU reference may be withdrawn at last gasp.

The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain M/T “PRESTIGE” (No. 5) [2022] EWCA Civ 238 (01 March 2022),  concerns a reference to the CJEU by Butcher J, arising out of the longstanding litigation between Spain and the owners’ P&I Club in connection with the Prestige oil spill in 2002. The Club had appealed against an order registering the judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court on 28 May 2019. The appeal was fixed for a two-week trial from 2 December 2020 to determine (i) as a matter of law, whether the judgment entered by Hamblen J constituted a judgment within the meaning of Article 34(3) and, if not, whether that judgment and the arbitration award (and the res judicata to which they give rise as a matter of English law) could be relied upon and (ii) as a matter of fact and law, whether the Spanish Proceedings had breached the human rights of the defendants, including the Club.

Spain made an application seeking the reference of six questions to the CJEU (later adding a seventh) and invited  Butcher J to determine that application at the hearing of the appeal in order to be in a position to lodge any request with the CJEU before “the Brexit cut off”  with the end of the Implementation Period on 31 December 2020. On 21 December 2020 Butcher J then referred three issues to the CJEU.

“(1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?

(2)  Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant “judgment” of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?

(3)  On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought, is it permissible to rely on 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?”

At the time of making the reference Butcher J had not decided the Club’s human rights argument. That was decided against the Club in May 2021, after the end of the Implementation Period, and could not be referred to the CJEU. The reference, C-700/20, was heard by the CJEU on 31 January 2022 and the opinion of the Advocate General is expected on 5 May 2022, with the judgment of the CJEU to be delivered at any time thereafter.

The Club appealed the decision of Butcher J, and on 1 March 2022 the Court of Appeal held that Butcher J did not have the authority to refer the questions to the CJEU. The necessity test mandated in Art 267 of 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would only be satisfied if the European law question is conclusive of the issue which the national court has to decide on a particular occasion in accordance with its national procedure. The judge’s discretion as to whether to make a reference only arises once the test of necessity has been satisfied.  That was not the case here as Butcher J had not decided the human rights policy issue raised by the Club. Unless and until that issue had been determined against the Club, the questions referred could not be said to be conclusive or even substantially determinative of the appeal. The questions could have been resolved entirely in Spain’s favour, yet the Club could have won on the human rights issue. Looking at previous CJEU authority in Cartesio Oktato es Szolgaltato bt (Case 210/06) [2009] Ch 354 it was clear that as a matter of national law a reference can be set aside on appeal.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the Judge’s order referring the questions to the CJEU. However, only the referring judge has jurisdiction to withdraw the reference. The Court of Appeal referred to Butcher J, pursuant to CPR 52.20(2)(b), the question of whether, in the light its judgment, he should withdraw the reference he made to the CJEU on 21 December 2020. The Court of Appeal indicated that the hearing should take place as soon as possible, and in any event in time for any decision to withdraw the reference to be effective.

Another bad week for Shell. Supreme Court allows Okpabi appeal

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, for whom Lord Hamblen gave judgment, allowed the appeal in the Okpabi Nigerian oil spill case against Shell’s UK parent, Royal Dutch Shell, Okpabi & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2021] UKSC 3 (12 February 2021). This comes shortly after the decision of the Dutch Court of Appeal in parallel proceedings involving oil spills in other parts of Nigeria with claims against Shell’s Dutch parent and its Nigerian subsidiary.

The Supreme Court criticised the approach of both the court at first instance and of the Court of Appeal in allowing what was in effect a mini-trial based on the voluminous evidence before the Court. This was incorrect for interlocutory proceedings. Legally, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Vedanta  which was given after the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Okpabi, various errors of law were apparent in the approach of the majority of the Court of Appeal.

The case made against RDS was that it owed the claimant a common law duty of care because, as pleaded, it exercised significant control over material aspects of SPDC’s operations and/or assumed responsibility for SPDC’s operations, including by the promulgation and imposition of mandatory health, safety and environmental policies, standards and manuals which allegedly failed to protect the appellants against the risk of foreseeable harm arising from SPDC’s operations. The issue of governing law pointed to the application of Nigerian law under the Rome II Regulation and it was agreed that the laws of England and Wales and the law of Nigeria wee materially the same.  The majority of the Court of Appeal (Simon LJ and the Chancellor) held that there was no arguable case that RDS owed the appellants a common law duty of care to protect them against foreseeable harm caused by the operations of SPDC. Sales LJ delivered a dissenting judgment in which he explained why he considered there was a good arguable case that RDS did owe the appellants a duty of care.

The pleaded case and the legal argument in the courts below focused on the then understood threefold test for a duty of care set out in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 and, in particular, whether there was sufficient proximity and whether it would be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care. This was incorrect in the light of this court’s decision in Vedanta, where Lord Briggs had stated [49] “the liability of parent companies in relation to the activities of their subsidiaries is not, of itself, a distinct category of liability in common law negligence”.

The appellants recast their case based on Vedanta with the following four routes:

(1)              RDS taking over the management or joint management of the relevant activity of SPDC;

(2)              RDS providing defective advice and/or promulgating defective group-wide safety/environmental policies which were implemented as of course by SPDC;

(3)              RDS promulgating group-wide safety/environmental policies and taking active steps to ensure their implementation by SPDC, and

(4)              RDS holding out that it exercises a particular degree of supervision and control of SPDC.

Apart from corporate material from the Shell group there was also the evidence of Professor Jordan Siegel who produced an expert report in 2008 in litigation in the United States involving RDS’s immediate predecessors as SPDC’s parent companies. He considered that these documents showed that “The Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies tightly controls its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC. This control comes in the form of monitoring and approving business plans, allocating investment resources, choosing the management, and overseeing how the subsidiary responds to major public affairs issues.” He summarised various corporate documents that post-dated his 2008 report and explains that, “there has been no material change in the senior management of the Shell Group’s ability to tightly control SPDC” since that report. Hes tated that the role of the RDS ExCo is “fundamentally the same” as the predecessor Committee of Managing Directors.

Apart from the error of conducting a mini-trial, there were two other errors of law alleged by the appellants.

The first alleged error is in the Court of Appeal’s analysis of the principles of a parent company’s liability in its consideration of the factors and circumstances which may give rise to a duty of care. The second alleged error is in the court’s overall analytical framework for determining whether a duty of care exists in cases of this type and its reliance on the Caparo threefold test.

The approach of the Court of Appeal had to be considered in the light of the guidance subsequently provided by this court in Vedanta. To the extent that the Court of Appeal indicated that the promulgation by a parent company of group wide policies or standards can never in itself give rise to a duty of care, that was inconsistent with Vedanta.  At para 52 of Vedanta Lord Briggs said that he did not consider that “there is any such reliable limiting principle”. He pointed out that: “Group guidelines … may be shown to contain systemic errors which, when implemented as of course by a particular subsidiary, then cause harm to third parties.” This is what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (2).

Secondly, the majority of the Court of Appeal may be said to have focused inappropriately on the issue of control. Simon LJ appears to have regarded proof of the exercise of control by the parent company as being As Lord Briggs pointed out in Vedanta, it all depends on: “the extent to which, and the way in which, the parent availed itself of the opportunity to take over, intervene in, control, supervise or advise the management of the relevant operations … of the subsidiary.[49]” Control was just a starting point for that question. Lord Hamblen stated:

“The issue is the extent to which the parent did take over or share with the subsidiary the management of the relevant activity (here the pipeline operation). That may or may not be demonstrated by the parent controlling the subsidiary. In a sense, all parents control their subsidiaries. That control gives the parent the opportunity to get involved in management. But control of a company and de facto management of part of its activities are two different things. A subsidiary may maintain de jure control of its activities, but nonetheless delegate de facto management of part of them to emissaries of its parent.” [147]

A specific example of a case in which a duty of care may arise regardless of the exercise of control was provided by what the appellants have described as Vedanta route (4), based on what Lord Briggs stated at para 53:

“… the parent may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries, even if it does not in fact do so. In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken.”

The Supreme Court then went on to consider whether these errors were material to the decision of the Court of Appeal.

It held that the case set out in the pleadings, fortified by the points made in reliance upon the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework, established that there was a real issue to be tried under Vedanta routes (1) and (3).  It was not necessary to make any ruling in relation to Vedanta routes (2) and (4), and the Court preferred not to do so given that the pleading has not been structured around such a case, although it observed that there was currently no pleaded identification of systemic errors in the RDS policies and standards.

Lord Hamblen concluded [154]:

“Whilst I consider that the appellants’ pleaded case and reliance on the RDS Control Framework and the RDS HSSE Control Framework is sufficient to raise a real issue to be tried, that conclusion is further supported by their witness evidence, as summarised when setting out the appellants’ case above, and, for reasons already given, the very real prospect of relevant disclosure being provided. That prospect is specifically borne out by the evidence of Professor Siegel and the identification of some of the most likely documents of relevance in the Dutch proceedings.”

Prefering, generally, the analysis of Sales LJ  to that of the majority of the Court of Appeal he noted observations of Sales LJ at para 155 that it was significant that the Shell group is organised along Business and Functional lines rather than simply according to corporate status. This vertical structure involves significant delegation

The appellants argued that the Shell group’s vertical organisational structure means that it is comparable to Lord Briggs’ example of group businesses which “are, in management terms, carried on as if they were a single commercial undertaking, with boundaries of legal personality and ownership within the group becoming irrelevant” (para 51).  How this organisational structure worked in practice and the extent to which the delegated authority of RDS, the CEO and the RDS ExCo was involved and exercised in relation to decisions made by SPDC were very much in dispute, as apparent from the witness statements. It wa also an issue in relation to which proper disclosure was of obvious importance. It clearly raised triable issues.

Things don’t go well for Shell. Dutch Court of Appeal finds it liable for pipeline spills in Nigeria

The Dutch Court of Appeal has held that Shell Nigeria is liable for two pipeline spills in Oruma and Goi that took place between 2004-05. Shell had argued that the spills were caused by sabotage, so-called ‘bunkering’. Under Nigerian law, which was applied pursuant to the Rome I Regulation, the company would not be liable if the leaks were the result of sabotage. However, the court said that Shell had not been able fully to prove the causes of the spill. Although the parent company Royal Dutch Shell was not found directly responsible, the court ordered it to install a leak detection system on the Oruma pipeline, the source of several spills in the case – a finding of great interest in the ongoing debate about tort and multi-national companies..

Another case involving pipeline spills in Nigeria, Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell, came before the UK Supreme Court last June. A previous UK case involving spills in the Bodo area was settled in 2015.

Double-bad news for Mauritius. It’s the wrong type of pollutant.

 

On July 26 the “Wakashio” grounded off Mauritius, breaking up on 16 August. So far about 1200 tonnes of bunker fuel has been released into the sea. For Mauritius this is an environmental disaster.

Civil liability for bunker oil pollution falls under the Bunker Oil Pollution Convention 2001, to which Mauritius is a party. The good news is that under the Convention, the shipowner is strictly liable and there is mandatory insurance, with a direct right of action against the liability insurance, in this case the Japan P&I Club.

The bad news is that art. 6 provides that owners may limit their liability in accordance with the Convention for Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 or as amended.

The 1996 Protocol, significantly increases the  original limits in the 1976 Limitation Convention. However, it seems that Mauritius has not signed up to the 1996 Protocol.

Based on the gross tonnage of the vessel, apparently 101,932 tonnes, the limit for third-party claims including costs of prevention and clean up would be around $18m. Under the 1996 Protocol the limit would be $65m, based on the 2012 amendment to the LLMC 1996 limits, which entered into force in June 2015 and applied automatically unless objected to.

Had the oil spilled been from a laden oil tanker, the CLC and Fund regimes would have kicked in, with substantially higher limitation figures. Under the CLC the shipowner’s limitation figure would be around 65 million SDR,  US $91.65 million, with the Fund’s limitation figure being 203 million SDR, US $ 324.3 million.

 

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.

England v Spain grudge match. Appeal against registration of ‘Prestige’ judgment against London Club likely to be heard in December 2020.

 

Following the break up of ‘The Prestige’, Spain brought proceedings for compensation for the resulting pollution against various defendants, including the owner’s P&I Club. The Club got its response in early by obtaining an arbitration award against Spain which declared that, as a result of the “pay to be paid” clause in the policy the Club had no liability to Spain. The arbitrator’s jurisdiction was challenged unsuccessfully in the English Courts and the award was converted into a judgment. London SS Mutual v Kingdom of Spain, [2015] EWCA Civ 333; [2015] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 33

In 2016 the Spanish Supreme Court held that the owners and their club were liable for the damage caused and in execution proceedings in La Coruna the court held that the club would liable in respect of the claims up to a global limit of liability in the sum of approximately €855 million. Spain has obtained an order in England registering the Spanish judgment to enable its enforcement here in England. The Club have appealed against that order, principally on the ground that, under art 34.3 of the Brussels Regulation the judgment is irreconcilable with the previous decisions of the English courts converting the award into a judgment.

In a Case Management Conference before Teare J [2020] EWHC 142 (Comm) it was ordered that the trial be after 1 December 2020. It is estimated that it will last 5-6 days. Disclosure has been ordered of documents held by Spain which relate to the alleged refusal of the Spanish Courts  to allow the master to participate in an underwater investigation of the strength of the vessel’s hull and to disclose the results of the investigation (so that there was a breach of the master’s right to equality of arms and to be able to prepare a defence) or whether the results were disclosed to the master in sufficient time to allow him to prepare his defence.

The Club were also given permission to adduce evidence of a naval architect on the question whether the results of the underwater inspections enabled conclusions to be drawn as to the strength of the hull and if so what those conclusions were. On both issues the Club is to provide its evidence first.

€1.57 Billion to Spain and France in Compensation for Prestige Oil Spill

The 1976 tanker Prestige, which broke up and sank after she was refused entry to a harbour of refuge in November 2002, resulted in one of the worst environmental disasters in European history, polluting nearly 2,000 miles of French, Spanish and Portuguese coastline and wildlife, and adversely affecting the fishing industry.

It’s been a long saga, but today the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a decision handed down by the Provincial Court of A Coruña in November 2017 which requires The London P&I Club and the Prestige‘s Captain Apostolos Ioannis Mangouras to pay nearly €1.6 billion in damages to the Spanish government.

France is also set to receive €65 million and Xunta de Galicia €1.8 million.

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.