On 5 October 2020, J Teare handed down his last judgement as Admiralty Judge on a collision case, involving what could aptly be described as a three-ship pile up in the Suez Canal (1). Not only does the judgment shed some light on the legal causation approach in case of multiple collisions, it also raises some interesting points from the perspective of shipping lawyers and their clients.
In July 2018, a southbound convoy of eight vessels was proceeding through the Suez Canal. The vessel at the head of the convoy had an engine problem and was subsequently anchored. Thereafter, the vessels astern of her took steps to moor or prepared to moor.
The eighth and last vessel, Panamax Alexander, failed to moor and so collided with the seventh in the convoy, Sakizaya Kalon, which was at anchor. These two vessels then collided with Osios David, the sixth vessel of the convoy, which was also anchored and moored. The collisions generated claims totalling approximately US$18M, with none of the vessels accepting any liability for the collisions.
The learned judge held that the Panamax Alexander was 100% liable. She failed to appreciate that there was a risk of collision and, as a result, failed to moor earlier in time in order to avoid that risk. This failure was deemed a causative factor to the collisions and was considered a breach of rules 5, 7 and 8 of the Collision Regulations: maintaining a proper look out, adequately assessing risk of collision, and taking action to avoid collision. Furthermore, J Teare held that while the Osios David failed to inform the vessels behind her of her intention to moor, this fault had no causative potency. In the end, the added failures of the Panamax Alexander constituted the causes of the subsequent collisions and was deemed wholly responsible and fully liable for all the collisions.
An interesting aspect of the judgment is that J Teare reflected on the evolution of ship collision cases and how they’re adjudicated in Court. Over three decades ago, computers had yet to take over, with navigational plots drawn out on paper. If a collision case came to Court, often the question to answer was where and how the vessels had come into collision. Now with computers, VDR recordings, AIS vessel tracking, and ECDIS, this question is more readily answerable, so now it has become why they collided. Indeed, in the opening paragraphs of his judgment, J Teare remarked that the information contained in VDR audio recordings allow for detailed submissions and cross-examination as to why a vessel was navigated as she was; these are relevant to questions of fault and to the degree of blameworthiness.
Furthermore, the use of technology comprised another aspect of the trial in that it was conducted entirely remotely, with all three masters cross-examined either while they were onboard their respective vessels or abroad. In a Covid-19 world, it is becoming more common for trials to be held remotely, but this trial was probably the first occasion on which evidence has been given to the Admiralty Court from the high seas.