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.

 

“Everywhere you go, you can be sure with Shell.” No arguable duty of care in respect of Nigerian oil pollution leaks.

 

The issue of a parent company’s potential direct liability in tort in respect of acts of one of its subsidiary companies has recently come before the Court of Appeal in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd , [2018] EWCA Civ 191. The Nigerian claimants suffered from harm from pollution arising from oil leaks from Nigerian land pipelines due to the illegal process of “bunkering” by which oil is stolen by tapping into the pipelines.

The claimants wanted to sue  Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC, who operated the pipelines, in the English courts rather than in Nigeria. To this end they sued the English holding company, Royal Dutch Shell (‘RDS’), in the English courts. RDS would now serve as an ‘anchor defendant’ and the claimants obtained leave to serve SPDC out of the jurisdiction under para 3.1 of Practice Direction 6B, on the ground that there was between the claimant and RDS a real issue which it was reasonable for the court to try and the claimant wished to serve SPDC as a necessary or proper party to that claim.

RDS applied under CPR Part 11(1) for orders declaring that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims against it, or should not exercise such jurisdiction as it had. At first instance Fraser J found that there was no arguable duty of care owed by the parent company Royal Dutch Shell Plc to those affected by the operations of its subsidiary in Nigeria.( [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC), noted in this blog on 2 February 2017. The governing law would be that of Nigeria, but the issue was decided under English law, because the legal experts for the parties were agreed that the law of Nigeria would follow, or at least include as an essential component, the law of England in this respect.

The Court of Appeal has now upheld the decision by a 2-1 majority, Sales LJ dissenting. The Court of Appeal applied the three stage Caparo Industries v Dickman test for assessing novel duties of care[1990] 2 AC 605 (HL) which set out three requirements, all of which had to be satisfied. (1) Was it foreseeable that if the defendant failed to take reasonable care, the plaintiff would be injured by the acts or omissions of the defendant (the foreseeability factor)? (2) Was there a relationship between the plaintiff the defendant characterized by the law as one of “proximity” or of being “neighbours” one to another (the proximity factor)? (3) as a matter of legal policy it would be fair and just to impose a duty of care on the defendant (the policy factor)? The duty of care argued for by the claimants foundered on the proximity requirement.

The claimants’ based their case on the duty of care owed by RDS to them on the fact that

“… [RDS] exerts significant control and oversights over [SPDC’s] compliance with its environmental and regulatory obligations and has assumed responsibility for ensuring observance of proper environmental standards by [SPDC] in Nigeria. [RDS] carefully monitors and directs the activities of [SPDC] and has the power and authority to intervene if [SPDC] fails to comply with the Shell Group’s global standards and/or Nigerian law.”

The claimants relied on five main factors to demonstrate RDS’s arguable control of SPDC’s operations: (1) the issue of mandatory policies, standards and manuals which applied to SPDC, (2) the imposition of mandatory design and engineering practices, (3) the imposition of a system of supervision and oversight of the implementation of RDS’s standards which bore directly on the pleaded allegations of negligence, (4) the imposition of financial control over SPDC in respect of spending which, again, directly relevant to the allegations of negligence and (5) a high level in the direction and oversight of SPDC’s operations.

Having reviewed the evidence submitted by the claimants Simon LJ concluded that none of the claimants’ five factors, either individually or cumulatively demonstrated a sufficient degree of control of SPDC’s operations in Nigeria by RDS to establish the necessary degree of proximity. There was no arguable case that RDS controlled SPDC’s operations, or that it had direct responsibility for practices or failures which were the subject of the claim. Simon LJ noted an important distinction between a parent company which controls, or shares control of, the material operations on the one hand, and a parent company which issues mandatory policies and standards which are intended to apply throughout a group of companies in order to ensure conformity with particular standards. “The issuing of mandatory policies plainly cannot mean that a parent has taken control of the operations of a subsidiary (and, necessarily, every subsidiary) such as to give rise to a duty of care in favour of any person or class of persons affected by the policies. [88]”.

A similar point was made by Sir Geoffrey Vos. The issue of mandatory policies, standards and manuals were of a highlevel nature and did not indicate control; control rested with SPDC which was responsible for its own operations.

“The promulgation of group standards and practices is not, in my view, enough to prove the “imposition” of mandatory design and engineering practices. There was no real evidence to show that these practices were imposed even if they were described as mandatory. There would have needed to be evidence that RDS took upon itself the enforcement of the standards, which it plainly did not. It expected SPDC to apply the standards it set. The same point applies to the suggested “imposition” of a system of supervision and oversight of the implementation of RDS’s standards which were said to bear directly on the pleaded allegations of negligence. RDS said that there should be a system of supervision and oversight, but left it to SPDC to operate that system. It did not have the wherewithal to do anything else.[205]”

 

Opkabi is one of three transnational tort claims involving attempts to sue a foreign subsidiary company using the English parent company as an ‘anchor’ defendant. In Lungowe v Vedanta and AAA v Unilever the court accepted that there was an arguable case that the anchor defendant owed a duty of care, although in AAA the claim foundered on the lack of foreseeability of the harm suffered by the claimants at the hands of third parties in the post-election violence in Kenya after the 2007 elections. An appeal is due to be heard later this year.

As a sidenote, in similar proceedings brought against SPDC in the Netherlands, using RDS as an ‘anchor defendant’, the Dutch Court of Appeal in December 2015 concluded that the claims against RDS were not bound to fail. They reasoned.

“Considering the foreseeable serious consequences of oil spills to the local environment from a potential spill source, it cannot be ruled out from the outset that the parent company may be expected in such a case to take an interest in preventing spills (or in other words, that there is a duty of care in accordance with the criteria set out in Caparo v Dickman [1990] UKHL 2, [1990] 1 All ER 56), the more so if it has made the prevention of environmental damage by the activities of group companies a spearhead and is, to a certain degree, actively involved in and managing the business operations of such companies, which is not to say that without this attention and involvement a violation of the duty of care is unthinkable and that culpable negligence with regard to the said interests can never result in liability.”

 

The claimants’ solicitors in Opkabi, Leigh Day, have indicated their intention to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

 

 

Scope of OPA expanded. The US Foreign Spill Protection Act 2017.

 

On 12 December 2017 President Donald Trump signed into law the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2017. This  amends the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to make foreign facilities that are located offshore and outside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) liable for removal costs and damages that result from oil spills that reach (or threaten to reach) U.S. navigable waters, adjoining shorelines, or the EEZ. Specifically, the following parties may be held liable: (1) the owners or operators of the foreign facilities, including facilities located in, on, or under any land within foreign countries; and (2) the holders of a right of use and easement granted under applicable foreign law for the area in which the facility is located. The Act extends to abandoned foreign facilities. The Act also expands the definition of  an “offshore facility” under the Clean Water Act so as to cover facilities seaward of the US EEZ. The expansion applies to the  subsections of s.311 of the Clean Water Act relating: to administrative and civil penalties for spills of oil and/or other hazardous substances; federal removal authority; civil enforcement ; the savings clause for existing state, local and federal law.

Parents and subsidiaries. No liability in tort for Nigerian pipeline pollution.

When will a parent company be liable in tort in respect of acts of one of its subsidiary companies? Fraser J has provided some answers to this question in Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd,  [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC). The case involved pollution claims arising from oil leaks from Nigerian land pipelines due to the illegal process of bunkering by which oil is stolen by tapping into the pipelines. The principal target was Shells’ Nigerian subsidiary SPDC who operated the pipelines but the claimants wanted the case to be heard in the English courts rather than in Nigeria. To do this they brought proceedings against the English holding company, Royal Dutch Shell, which would serve as an “anchor defendant” to allow claims against SPDC to be joined to those proceedings. In a jurisdictional challenge by the two defendants the issue arose as to whether there was an arguable duty of care on the part of RDS to the claimants under Nigerian law which for these purposes was the same as English common. If not, there would be no ‘anchor defendant’ and SPDC’s applications challenging jurisdiction would succeed, due to the lack of connection of the claims against SPDC with this jurisdiction.

The claimants argued that Royal Dutch Shell owed a direct duty of care to them, relying heavily on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Chandler v Cape [2012] 1 WLR 3111, in which a parent company was found to owe such a duty to employees of its subsidiary company. They alleged that RDS had failed to ensure that repeated oil leaks from SPDC’s infrastructure were expeditiously and effectively cleaned up so as to minimise the risk to the claimants’ health, land and livelihoods and, further, had failed to take appropriate measures to address the well-known systemic problems of its operations in Nigeria which led to repeated oil spills.

Fraser J applied the threefold Caparo test to finding the existence of a duty of care.

1. The damage should be foreseeable; 2. There should exist between the party owing the duty and the party to whom it is owed a relationship of proximity or neighbourhood; 3. The situation should be one in which it is “fair, just and reasonable” to impose a duty of a given scope upon the one party for the benefit of the other.

The second and third of these limbs were problematic for the claimants. The evidence from those at SPDC’s evidence was to the effect that it, rather than RDS, took all operational decisions in Nigeria, and RDS performed nothing by way of supervisory direction, specialist activities or knowledge, that would put RDS in any different position than would be expected of an ultimate parent company. It was SPDC that had the specialist knowledge and experience – as well as the necessary licence from the Nigerian authorities – to perform the relevant activities in Nigeria that formed the subject matter of the claim.

Nor could a duty of care be said to arise from public statements by made both by the Shell Group and by RDS about the Group’s commitment to environmental issues, and the organisation of the Shell Group, such statements being a function of the listing regulations of the London Stock Exchange.  First these statements were qualified by the following wording “Royal Dutch Shell plc and the companies in which it directly and indirectly owns investments are separate and distinct entities. But in this publication, the collective expressions “Shell” and “Shell Group” may be used for convenience where reference is made in general to those companies. Likewise, the words ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and ‘ourselves’ are used in some places to refer to the companies of the Shell Group in general. These expressions are also used where no useful purpose is served by identifying any particular company or companies.” Second, it was highly unlikely that compliance with such disclosure standards mandated for listing on the London Stock Exchange could of itself be characterised as an assumption of a duty of care by a parent company over the subsidiary companies referred to in those statements.

As regards Chandler v Cape, the claimant there was a former employee, which, by definition, involved a closer relationship than parties affected by operational activities. A duty of care was more likely to be found in respect of employees, a defined class of persons, rather than others not employed who are affected by the acts or omissions of the subsidiary.  None of the four factors identified by Arden LJ in Chandler as leading to a duty of care on the parent company was present here. 1. RDS was not operating the same business as SPDC. 2. RDS did not have superior or specialist knowledge compared to the subsidiary SPDC. 3. RDS could have only a superficial knowledge or overview of the systems of work of SPDC.  4. RDS could not be said to know that SPDC was relying upon it to protect the claimants.

Accordingly, there was no arguable duty of care on the part of RDS and with the disappearance of the anchor defendant the claims against SPDC could not proceed in England. The claimants’ solicitors, Leigh Day, have stated that they will appeal.

 

What’s in a name? From DECC to DBEIS to OGA.

On 1 October 2016 the Energy Act 2016 (Commencement No.2 and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2016 (the “Regulations”) will bring into force most of the sections of the Energy Act  2016 which relate to oil & gas operations. Various powers will be transferred from the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (‘DECC’) – which became the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (‘DBEIS’) over the summer – to the Oil and Gas Authority (‘OGA’). The powers transferred will be the licensing and regulatory powers, and decommissioning powers, under the Petroleum Act 1998, as well as certain powers relating to assessment of offshore tax liability. DBEIS remains the principal environmental regulator for the offshore oil and gas industry and the changes should not materially affect the operation of the Offshore Safety Directive Regulator (‘OSDR’), responsible for overseeing industry compliance Offshore Safety Directive 2013. The OSDR is a partnership between the Health and Safety Executive and DBEIS.

Tomorrow the movie ‘Deepwater Horizon’ opens worldwide. A must-see for all concerned with offshore oil and gas operations.