Photo: Illustration; Image courtesy: NGO Shipbreaking Platform 2013

UK court clears way for widow of Bangladeshi ship-breaking worker to sue tanker company

The UK High Court ruled on Monday, July 13, that the widow, whose husband lost his life while dismantling a supertanker in Bangladesh in 2018, can pursue a negligence claim against Maran (UK) Limited, a British company involved in the ship’s sale.

The court said that Maran (UK) arguably owed a duty of care to the deceased.

Maran UK was established in 2013 to represent Maran Tankers Management Inc (MTM) by distributing insurance and chartering services of the VLCCs, Suezmaxes and Aframaxes tankers of the Angelicoussis Shipping Group, the company’s website reads.

“While the substantive hearing in relation to the negligence claim remains to be heard, this decision potentially has far-reaching implications for the shipping industry. Primarily, it reinforces the principle that when a ship reaches the end of life, a shipowner’s liability does not necessarily end upon sale,” Watson Farley & Williams said.

Mr. Mollah fell to his death on March 30, 2018, while working on the demolition of the Maran Centaurus in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyard in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

His widow filed the proceedings in April 2019, claiming damages for negligence under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

Under the claim, Maran (UK) Limited is being held accountable for the vessel ending up in Bangladesh, where working conditions in relation to ship scrapping were known as some of the lowest health and safety standards in the world.

The ship was sold in 2017 and Maran (UK) made arrangements to sell the vessel for demolition. A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was entered into between Centaurus Special Maritime Enterprise (CSME), the registered owner of the vessel, and Hsejar Maritime Inc. Maran (UK) was not a party to the MoA.

Hsejar took delivery of the vessel in September 2017, reflagged it from Greece to Palau, changed the name to EKTA, and installed a new crew.

The vessel was beached at Chattogram on September 30, 2017.

The defendant claimed that from this point neither the company nor any entity from the shipping group had direct involvement with the Vessel.

However, the claimant insisted that there was evidence that the company knew where the ship was destined for based on the price paid by Hsejar, as lower price would signify an onward sale to a more reputable ship recycling yard, as well as the quantity of fuel left on the vessel when it was delivered, which in itself would limit where the vessel could be delivered for scrapping

As such, it was inferred that the company basically had control over the terms of the sale and was in the position to decide on an alternative destination for a greener recycling of the vessel.

The decision on substantive negligence claim is yet to be made. However, the latest ruling paves the way to push for further liability of shipowners in how they recycle their ships not limiting it to the point of sale.

“The conditions of some scrapping yards in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are now well-known and the court agreed that a duty of care exists at the time of sale to such an extent that should a vessel be scrapped without due consideration of these conditions, liability may be much harder to avoid,” Watson Farley & Williams said.

As such, the time has come for shipowners to raise the bar and make sure sustainability is pursued throughout the life-time of their vessels.

Ordering greener, more efficient ships to cut emissions and drive the change has to go hand in hand with retiring these vessels in an environmentally sound and safe manner.

The regulatory framework for abandoning beaching practices and unsafe conditions for shipbreakers has been forged in the form of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation and the Hong Kong Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships, adopted in 2009.

The treaty will enter into force 2 years after it gets ratified by 15 states –accounting for 40% of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage, and a combined maximum annual ship recycling volume (during the preceding 10 years) of not less than 3% of their combined gross tonnage.

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