UK Appeal Court: Ever Smart Responsible for 2015 Collision

The containership Ever Smart, which collided with the VLCC Alexandra 1 in February 2015, should bear 80% of the liability for the collision, the UK Court of Appeal confirmed.

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The ruling upheld the first instance decision of Hon. Mr Justice Teare on appeal following the collision that occurred in the narrow channel leading to the entrance of the port of Jebel Ali.

On February 11, the vessels collided at the mouth of the exit channel from Jebel Ali port. At the time of the collision, Ever Smart was heading outbound from Jebel Ali port whilst the Alexandra 1, having its engines in low speed, was waiting in the pilot boarding area to embark the pilot who had just disembarked Ever Smart. As a result of the collision, significant damage was caused to both ships.

The parties were agreed on the navigational facts. However, a substantial dispute arose regarding liability and applicability of the narrow channel rule and the crossing rule under rules 9 and 15 of the Collison Regulations (COLREGs).

The owners of Ever Smart alleged that the crossing rule applied and so Alexandra 1 was obliged to give way to Ever Smart, while the owners of Alexandra 1 asserted that the crossing rule had limited application to questions of navigation in and around a narrow channel and did not apply to a ship in a narrow channel and a ship navigating towards that channel in preparation for entering it.

In the court’s view, the crossing rule did not apply in the present case as in the interests of safety, which was the foundation of the COLREGs, the crossing rule could not have been intended to apply where one ship was navigating along a narrow channel and another ship was navigating towards that channel with a view to entering it.

It followed that when Alexandra 1 approached the channel, it was not under a duty to keep out of the way of Ever Smart. As a matter of good seamanship, its duty was to navigate in such a manner that when it reached the channel it would be on the starboard side of the channel in accordance with rule 9 of the COLREGs.

The fact that it had to embark a pilot did not discharge it from that duty. In any event, Alexandra 1 was not on a sufficiently defined course for the crossing rules to apply.

In addition, it was held that, taking into consideration the unsafe speed of Ever Smart, it contributed far more to the damage resulting from the collision than the lower speed of Alexandra 1. It followed that Ever Smart’s fault was greater than that of Alexandra 1.

The matter was appealed on two main issues: namely the applicability of the crossing rule in this scenario, and also whether the judge had erred in law in taking account of the extent of damage sustained by the ships when apportioning liability, according to The Standard Club.

On the first issue, Lord Justice of Appeal Gross noted that the aim of the COLREGs was to ensure safety and accordingly he considered that a situation in which a mariner could be required to follow two rules requiring different actions at the same time would be unsatisfactory. He consequently agreed with the first instance judgment that the crossing rules did not apply to this situation. On the second issue, he concluded that a judge is entitled to take into account excessive speed in certain circumstances.

The Court of Appeal upheld the finding of the Admiralty Judge that the narrow channel rule applied and the crossing rule did not apply, and dismissed each of the grounds of appeal raised on behalf of Ever Smart interests.