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.

Safe berths, charters and occupiers’ liability in the US

An otherwise unremarkable, but bitterly fought, safe berth / occupiers’ liability case from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. A tanker, the Athos I, was owned by Frescati, time-chartered to a tanker pool Star, and voyage-chartered by them to Citgo, an oil company, to carry a crude oil cargo from Venezuela to its own facility at Paulsboro, NJ (opposite Philadelphia). On the way in to the berth she hit an abandoned anchor, was holed, and oil escaped costing tens of millions to clean up. Could Frescati sue Citgo, the voyage (sub)charterers, for repair costs to the vessel (which actually they scrapped) plus the other costs incurred? Yes. The safe berth warranty was broken by Citgo. Interestingly the courts had earlier held that this enured to the benefit of Frescati, disponent owner under the time charter to Star, as a third-party beneficiary (In re Frescati Shipping Co Ltd, 718 F.3d 184, 200 (3d Cir. 2013): something lawyers in England might care to bear in mind, especially where a mesne charterer is bankrupt). In addition there was an occupiers’ liability claim against Citgo for negligence, which also succeeded, the court making it clear that there could be a pro-active duty to check for hidden hazards using things like sonar side-scans. Frescati recovered the clean-up costs they had paid, plus the repair costs, even though no repairs had in fact been done (the vessel having been scrapped); the latter point confirming that the rule as repair costs is much the same both sides of the Atlantic.

See In re Petition of Frescati Shipping Co Ltd, Civil Action Nos. 05-cv-305 (JHS), 08-cv-2898 (JHS), ED Pa, 25 July, 2016.

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The EU Referendum. Part Three. Losing our Directives?

 Since 2000 the EU has become increasingly active in the maritime sphere as regards safety and the environment. This has led to a series of Directives, set out below, which will cease to have effect under the implementing statutory instruments in the UK on repeal of the European Communities Act 1972.

First off, there is the series of Directives generated under the third maritime safety package, known as ERIKA III, which entered into force on 17th June 2009.

–  Directive 2009/21/EC on compliance with flag state requirements

– Directive 2009/15/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 391/2009 on common rules and standards for ship inspections and survey organisations

–  Directive 2009/16/EC on port State control

– Directive 2009/17/EC establishing a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system

– Directive 2009/18/EC establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector

– Directive 2009/20/EC on the insurance of shipowners for maritime claims

This gives Member States the power to expel from their ports vessels which do not have a certificate showing liability for maritime claims up to the limits in the 1976 LLMC as amended by the 1996 Protocol.

Erika III also produced a Regulation.

Regulation (EC) No. 392/2009 on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea in the event of accidents. This brought the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention into force within the EU in 2012. The UK has ratified the Protocol and on 28 May 2014 brought it into domestic law through a statutory instrument The Merchant Shipping (Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea) Order 2014 deriving from the powers conferred by sections 183(4) and (6) and 184(1) and (3) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995

 Other notable Directives in the maritime sphere are

Directive 2005/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on shipsource pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements

This criminalises ship source pollution in cases of ‘serious negligence’ and was the subject of a decision of the ECJ in 2008 in the Intertanko case C-308/06 in which it decided that the legality of the Directive could not be assessed in the light of either MARPOL or UNCLOS.

Directive 2012/33/ on the Sulphur Content of Maritime Fuels.

This came into effect on 1 January 2015 and requires ships sailing in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea (the North European emission control area) to use bunker oil with a maximum 0.1% sulphur or apply alternative methods in order to achieve the same effect.

Directive 2013/30/EU on the safety of offshore oil and gas operations and amending Directive 2004/35/EC

This was the EU response to the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ blowout in 2010. The Directive aims to prevent the occurrence of a ‘Deepwater Horizon’ in offshore installations in the EU but also addresses, in part, the response should such an incident occur, through three provisions. First, art. 38 extends the territorial scope of the Environmental Liability Directive 2004 (the ‘ELD’) from coastal waters to waters within the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf of Member States, up to 370 km from shore. Second, art.7 requires Member States to ensure that the licensee is financially liable for the prevention and remediation of “environmental damage” – i.e. damage falling within the ELD – caused by offshore oil and gas operations carried out by, or on behalf of, the licensee or the operator. Third, art.4 requires Member States “to require the licensee to maintain sufficient capacity to meet their financial obligations resulting from liabilities for offshore oil and gas operations.” and, when granting or transferring licenses, to take due account of, inter alia, “the applicant’s financial capabilities, including any financial security, to cover liabilities potentially deriving from the offshore oil and gas operations in question including liability for potential economic damages where such liability is provided for by national law”. These provisions came into effect on 19 July 2015.

It is, of course, open for Parliament to provide for the continuation of the statutory instruments implementing these Directives.

The House of Commons Briefing Paper of 30 June suggests (p14):

There might be some over-arching legislation saying, for example, that all UK laws implementing any EU Directive were repealed (perhaps with specified exceptions); or that they would all remain in force (again perhaps with exceptions). If the ECA were repealed, any secondary legislation based on s2(2) ECA would need to be saved from lapsing if it was to continue in force. EU Regulations, which are directly applicable (i.e. they do not need further implementation in the UK to come into force) will cease to have effect if the UK were to repeal the ECA.

There is no reason why EU-based UK law could not remain part of UK law, but the Government would have to make sure it still worked without the UK being in the EU.

The Government would probably come up with a mechanism for allowing changes to be made to secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) made under the ECA or other ‘parent’ acts. There could also be general amendments, such as replacing references to ‘the Commission’ or ‘Council’ with references to ‘the Secretary of State’.

The devolved legislatures would have to deal with EU legislation they have transposed into Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish laws. It would also be necessary to amend the relevant parts of the devolution legislation, which might require a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention.

UK Referendum Result. Implications for shipping law?

As a result of the vote to leave the EU,  the UK will cease to be a member of the EU probably around November 2018 after the new prime minister has invoked article 50 and Parliament has repealed the European Communities Act 1972. How will this affect shipping law?

Substantively, not a great deal. English dry shipping is based on common law, and a few key statutes, such as COGSA 1992, and the implementation of international carriage conventions through domestic legislation – such as COGSA 1971 with the Hague-Visby Rules. Nothing European here, so no change.

With  wet shipping, the CLC and the Fund are part of our national law through domestic law implementing international conventions. Similarly,  the Wreck Removal Convention, the Salvage Convention, and the 1976 Limitation Convention. Again, nothing European here, so plus ca change.

However, procedurally,  we are very much affected by European legislation – and this is something we shall return to in a later post. As a starting point, bear in mind the two sources of EU legislation.

  • Directives which are implemented by and Act of Parliament. On our leaving the EU it will be up to Parliament to decide whether to repeal or amend the implementing legislation.
  • Directives which are implemented as statutory instruments pursuant to s.2 of the European Communities Act 1972. These will cease to be a part of national law once the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed. If we want to keep them we need to enact them as part of our domestic law.
  • Regulations which have direct effect. These will cease to be a part of national law once the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed. If we want to keep Regulations we need to enact them as part of our domestic law.

Oil and Nigeria. Two new cases.

  1. In Federal Republic of Nigeria v MT Asteris (Charge FHC/L/239c/2015) the Federal High Court convicted a vessel and its crew of charges that included conspiracy to deal, dealing with, attempting to export and storing crude oil without lawful authority or a licence. The vessel had been arrested while drifting in Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone and Lloyds List data showed that the vessel had been trading in Nigeria. The vessel had 3,423.097 metric tons of petroleum products on board but no documents confirming their origin.
  2. Following Shell’s £55m settlement of an oil spill claim in the Bodo community in Nigeria, two new claims have been filed against Shell in the High Court by London solicitors, Leigh Day, in respect of spills in the Ogale and Bille communities.In the Ogale action, it is alleged that leaks are due to pipelines and infrastructure being several decades old and in a poor state of repair. In 2011 the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) published an Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland which included extensive testing of the Ogale Community. UNEP’s recommended: (i) Emergency measures to provide adequate sources of drinking water to impacted households; (ii) Immediate steps to prevent existing contaminated sites from causing further pollution and; (iii) A substantial programme of clean up and decontamination of impacted sites. It is alleged that Shell has failed to comply with the recommendations of the UNEP Report and to clean up the sites polluted by their oil.In the Bille action it is alleged that creeks, mangroves and island communities have been devastated by oil leaks since the replacement of the Bille Section of the pipeline in 2010. The key issue in the claim will be whether Shell can be liable for failing to protect their pipelines from damage caused by third parties.On 2 March 2016 at the Technology and Construction Court, His Honour Judge Raeside QC, ruled that formal legal proceedings against Shell can now be served on Shell Nigeria (the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd) who will be joined to the English proceedings alongside Royal Dutch Shell plc.