Autonomous Ships- Regulatory Work Begins

The idea of developing smart ships that have ability to navigate without human input has been around for some time and as a result of technological developments in recent years, it is believed that this could be a reality in near future.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) at its most recent meeting (MSC 99) in May 2018 agreed to establish a Working Group (WC) (named as Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) WC) to undertake a scoping exercise with a view to identifying which of the existing international instruments dealing with maritime safety should be amended and what new instruments should be developed to facilitate the operation of such vessels in international waters.

For the purposes of this exercise, a number of provisional definitions have been prescribed. Most significantly, MASS is defined as “a ship which, to varying degree, can operate independent of human interaction”. This is a very broad definition and encompasses all of the ships that are currently under consideration. The WG has prescribed four degrees of autonomy: (MSC 99/WP.9 Annex 1, para 4)

  1. Ship with automated processes and decision support. Such ships have on board seafarers to operate and control shipboard systems and functions.
  2. Remotely controlled ships with seafarers on board. The ship is controlled and operated from a distant location.
  3. Remotely controlled ships without seafarers on board. The ship is controlled and operated from a distant location.
  4. Fully autonomous ships. Here, the operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The categorisation seems to be rather basic but perhaps simplicity is necessary at this early stage. We suppose in case of (ii), it is envisaged that seafarers on board will have technical knowledge and knowhow to intervene and take control in case of an emergency. It is also worth noting that ever increasing cyber risks should be taken into account and especially in case of (iii), it is curious to know what steps can be taken to ensure that the safety is not compromised in a case where contact between the ship and offshore operator is lost. This could be also a significant issue with regard to vessels which have full autonomy (e.g. iv).

It is worth reminding ourselves that the scope of this exercise is restricted to instruments concerning maritime safety (i.e. COLREG 1972, SOLAS 1974, STCW 1974, SAR 1979 and International Convention on Loadlines 1966). Once smart ships become operational other problems, i.e. the liability of manufacturers/software producers, impact of cyber risks on traditional division of liability, salvage law, are also likely to arise. These issues do not form at this stage part of the IMO’s work on the subject.

It is expected that the work of the MASS WC will be completed by the end of 2020. Even then, this is only beginning of a long journey. It will possibly take another decade or so to formulate new legal rules and amend existing ones to enable autonomous ships to engage in cross-border commercial operations. However, as Lao Tzu once famously said:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.

Please note that smart ships will form part of the discussion in our 14th Annual Colloquium to be held on 10-11 September 2018:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/new-technologies-and-shippingtrade-law-tickets-46148370017

 

New Package Holiday Regulations in Force in the UK as of 1 July 2018

On 1st July 2018, the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (hereinafter referred to as the Package Regulations 2018) (SI 2018/634) entered into force to give effect to the Directive (EU) of the European Parliament and of the Council EU 2015/2302. This replaces the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.

The Package Regulations 2018 introduce several changes taking into account the transformation that the travel industry has gone through especially in the last decade. The main changes are:

  1. Redefining “package holiday” and extending the scope of the Regulations

Today, people do not usually purchase their holidays from travel shops but instead utilise internet (i.e. their mobile phones, laptop etc). It is also common to use an online travel agent where elements of holiday (i.e. flight, hotel) are bought separately although the consumer might get the impression that he/she is purchasing a package. Therefore, to offer extended protection for today’s consumers, a new definition of “package holiday” has been introduced. The new definition will capture thousands of more arrangements sold on a daily basis especially on the internet increasing consumer protection. For example, if elements of a holiday are offered or sold separately this will still be treated as a package holiday for the purposes of 2018 Regulation if a total price is charged to the consumer (Article 2, (5)(b)(ii)). Similarly, if a consumer purchases a product commonly known as “holiday gift box”, this will be treated as a package holiday even if the precise hotel, for example, or precise combination, is yet to be ascertained(Article 2, (5)(b)(iv)).

Also, consumers purchasing package holidays are increasingly interesting in renting cars for sightseeing purposes. Under 1992 Regulations, there was a package holiday if at least two travel services were included in the package- i.e. transport, accommodation and other tourist services. With 2018 Regulations, “car rental” is added to the list meaning that a contract that provides the consumer holiday accommodation and a rental car will be viewed as a package holiday within the scope of the Regulations.

2. Price Alterations

Article 10 indicates in which instances the price of the package holiday can be increased after the booking is made.

This is only possible if:

  • The contract expressly stipulates that such an increase may be made;
  • The prize increase is a direct consequence of changes in a) the price of the carriage of passengers resulting from the cost of fuel or other power sources; and b) the level of taxes or fees on the travel services included in the contract imposed by third parties not directly involved in the performance of the package.

The procedure as to how the price increase may be made is stipulated in the Regulation.

3. Cancellation of the Contract

Article 12(4) for the first time allows organisers to stipulate “reasonable standardised termination fees” when a booking is cancelled by the consumer. On the other hand, consumers have been afforded a new right to cancel without paying cancellation charges “… in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of performance of the package, or which significantly affect the carriage of passengers to the destination.” (Article 12(7)). It is envisaged that this provision might prove problematic in practice especially if extraordinary events occur in the vicinity of the place of performance but there is no evidence that such events have caused disturbance at the location which the holiday maker was planning to go. For example, if a hurricane hits a nearby state (Alabama), would that justify the consumer to cancel a package holiday to Florida?

4. Liability of the Organiser

Under 1992 Regulations, the organiser is liable to compensate the consumers if something goes wrong during the holiday (i.e. problems arising during transportation or sub-standard accommodation is offered to the consumer) or if the consumer suffers illness or injury. This position is not altered under the 2018 Regulations but the liability of the organiser has been defined slightly differently. Under Article 15, the organiser is liable if there is “lack of conformity” with the package travel contract. It is submitted despite the use of new terminology, this will not create a significant change in the liability regime. This is because “lack of conformity” has been defined in Article 2(b) as “a failure to perform or improper performance of the travel services included in a package” which is precisely the wording used in 1992 Regulations.

From the perspective of transport law rules, 2018 Regulations offers the organisers the same protection that the previous Regulations provided.

Article 16(5) of 2018 Regulations provides that:

“In so far as the international conventions limit the extent of, or the conditions under which compensation is to be paid by a provider carrying out a travel service which is part of a package, the same limitations are to apply to the organiser.”

This means that if a passenger is injured whilst on board a ship involved in an international voyage, if the organiser is treated as a “contractual carrier” from the perspective of the relevant international regime, the Athens Convention on the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, the organiser will be able to rely on the limits afforded to carriers by that Convention. (It was stressed by HHJ Hallgarten QC in Lee v. Airtours Holidays Ltd & Another [2004] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 683, at [32] that a tour operator could be treated as “contracting carrier” under the Athens Convention as long as it assumes responsibility for the performance of the contract including the sea leg.) The position will be the same if the passenger is injured on a plane in an international voyage or on a train engaged in an international voyage.

5. Insolvency protection

The Regulation requires the organiser of a package holiday, who is established in the United Kingdom, to provide effective security in the event of organiser’s insolvency to cover the cost of refunding all payments made by or on behalf of travellers for any travel service not performed as a consequence of the insolvency (Article 19).

The Regulation 2018 also introduces a mutual recognition requirement. Accordingly, the UK must accept the insolvency protection arrangements entered into by organisers established in another EU Member State. Likewise, other Member States are required to accept the insolvency protection put in place by UK-based organisers.

One word of caution! Given that the Regulation is intended to implement an EU Directive, it is hard to predict what the position will be after BREXIT in March 2019 especially with regard to insolvency protection requirements. There is a serious risk that UK companies might be cut out of the European market unless they start a business in an EU county and offer insolvency protection as required by the Directive.

Marine Cargo Policies Do Not Normally Provide Cover for Economical Losses

Engelhart CTP (US) LLC v. Lloyd’s Syndicate 1221 for the 2014 year of account [2018] EWHC 900 (Comm)

Having purchased 1,967.898 metric tonnes of cooper ingots, said to be shipped in 102 containers from New York, the buyer (assured) obtained “Marine Cargo and Storage Insurance Policy” from various insurers at Lloyd’s. The insurance policy, inter alia, stated:

“… noted and agreed that unless otherwise declared the contrary, the broadest coverage shall apply.”

“Container Clause

It is agreed that this Insurance contract is also to pay for shortage of contents (meaning thereby the difference between the number of packages as per shippers and/or suppliers invoice and/or packing list loaded or alleged to have been laden in the container and/or trailer and/or vehicle load and the count of packages removed therefrom by the Assured and / or their agent at time of container emptying) notwithstanding that seals may appear intact, and/or any other loss and/or damage including but not limited to cargo and/or container sweat howsoever arising.”

 

“Fraudulent Documents

This insurance contract covers physical loss of or damage to goods and/or merchandise insured hereunder through the acceptance by the Assured and/or Shippers of fraudulent documents of title, including but not limited to Bill(s) of Lading and/or Shipping Receipt(s) and/or Messenger Receipt(s) and/or shipping documents and/or Warehouse Receipts and/or other document(s) of title.

This insurance contract is also to cover physical loss of or damage to goods insured caused by utilisation of legitimate Bill(s) of lading and/or other documents of title without the authorisation and/or consent of the Assured or their Agents and/or Shippers.”

On arrival at Hong Kong for transhipment, it was discovered that no cooper ingots were, in fact, shipped in the containers. Indeed, no such cargo existed and the containers only contained slag of nominal commercial value.

The assured’s claim for indemnity was turned down on various grounds but it was specifically stipulated by Sir Ross Cranston, sitting as a judge of the High Court, that all risk marine cargo insurance was generally construed as covering only losses following from physical loss or damage to goods and this policy as a whole did not displace the presumption against cover for pure economic loss.

The trial judge  dismissed the assured’s contention that the alleged loss fell under the container clause stressing that the term “shortage” in the clause should be given its ordinary meaning and could not cover a situation where there was no goods in the first place. He also emphasised that the “fraudulent documents” clause expressly and exclusively responded to “physical loss of or damage to” goods through the acceptance of dishonest documents so this clause rather than displacing the presumption against cover for pure economic loss in cargo policies endorsed it in the sense that it did expressly indicate that no cover was available for physical losses.

2 points emerge from the judgment:

  1. Considered from the perspective of the construction of contracts, the decision is not at all surprising. It is in line with the spirit of several high profile judgments of the Supreme Court, such as Rainy Sky SA Kookmin Bank [2011] UKSC 50; Arnold v. Britton [2015] UKSC 36 and Impact Funding Solutions Ltd v. Barrington Support Services Ltd [2016] UKSC 57, which emphasise that construing a written document is “first and foremost” a textual exercise. On that premise, a clear and express wording is required to extend the cover of a marine cargo policy to losses which are economic in nature. General statements in the policy purporting to describe the nature of coverage provided in broad terms are not on their own capable of extending the nature of cover beyond physical loss or damage to goods.
  2. It is somehow surprising that the insurers did not develop an alternative defence to the claim by arguing that the policy in this case was void (or did not attach) as the subject matter of insurance has never existed in the first place (see AF Watkinson & Co. Ltd. v. Hullett (1938) 61 L1L Rep 145) In fact, it was argued forcefully in Marine Insurance Fraud, (2014, Informa Law) at 2-117-2-118) that where insurance is obtained for an imaginary cargo, the non-disclosure and misrepresentation is of such magnitude that there is no cover at all.             

Warranty or Not?

Bluebon Ltd (in liquidation) v Ageas (UK) Limited, Aviva Insurance Ltd and another [2017] EWHC 3301 (Comm)

The assured, owners of the Star Garter Hotel at West Lothian, having purchased the property in December 2007, obtained an insurance policy from insurers, Ageas and Aviva, which incepted on 3 December 2009 for a period of 12 months. The insured property suffered loss by fire on 15 October 2010 and a claim was made. The insurers denied liability on the premise that the Electrical Installation Inspection Warranty was breached. The relevant term in the policy was worded as follows:

“It is warranted that the electrical installation be inspected and tested every five years by a contractor approved by the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation (NICEIC) and that any defects be remedied forthwith in accordance with the Regulations of the Institute of Electrical Engineers.”

On the premise that the last electrical inspection at the Hotel had taken place in September 2003, the insurers argued that the policy was either void or suspended from the outset. In the case, the trial judge, Bryan, J, was required to determine:

  1. The proper construction of the Warranty – was the five-year period to be calculated from the date of the last electrical inspection, or from Policy inception?
  2. Was the Warranty a True Warranty, a Suspensive Warranty, or a Risk Specific Condition Precedent, and what was the consequence of a breach?

The proper construction of the warranty

The assured argued that the five year period should be calculated from the date the policy has been incepted. Taking into account the commercial purpose of the warranty, i.e. ensuring that the risk of fire is minimised (whilst also protecting the health and safety of the insured and the occupiers of the hotel), the judge rejected this contention. This objective can only be achieved if the electrical installation is inspected at regular intervals, e.g. every five years, and any defects identified are remedied. The judge also suggested that the contention of the assured, i.e. the installation inspected every 5 years from the inception of the policy, would make no commercial sense and not work in the context of a one year policy, like this one.

This outcome makes sense and the judgment is in line with recent authorities on the matter such as AC Ward & Son Ltd v. Catlin (Five) Ltd [2009] EWHC 3122 (Comm) and GE Frankona Reinsurance Ltd v. CMM Trust No 1400 (The Newfoundland Explorer) [2006] EWHC 429 (Admlty), analysed by the author in his contribution to the 4th Volume of The Modern Law of Marine Insurance (2016, Informa Law) “New Parameters in Construing Insurance Contracts”

Legal classification of the clause            

The insurers argued that the clause in question was a true warranty and accordingly in this case breach had the effect of rendering the policy void from inception as the warranty related to a period before the attachment of the risk. Alternatively, they argued that the clause was a “suspensive provision” and as the inspection had not been carried out in 2008, the cover was suspended from the outset, i.e. the insurer never came on the risk. Conversely, the assured argued that the clause was a “Risk-Specific Condition Precedent”- i.e. a term which required compliance in respect of risks relating to the electrical installation. Therefore, in case of breach the assured could not recover for liabilities that emerge from risks associated with the electrical installation but cover should be available for liabilities that emerge from other risks.

The assured’s contention was a novel one and essentially based on the premise that a clause could make compliance with a specific aspect of the risk condition precedent to liability. That is certainly possible but clear and apposite language is required to achieve such an outcome. That does not seem to be the case here and the trial judge finding in favour of the insurers expressed the view that the clause was a “suspensory provision”. In reaching this conclusion, he worked on the assumption that the clause was designed to ensure that the assured undertakes such an inspection immediately if there had been no such inspection in the last five years. In other words, he assumed that the intention of the clause was to encourage the assured to get the inspection done as soon as possible by suspending the cover until it is completed. The author is not certain that this was the original intention of the insurers. The insurers in all probability desired to assess the risk accurately at the outset by ensuring that they were insuring a property that had gone through electrical surveys at regular intervals. To the author, it was clear that the clause went to the root of the contract and bore materially on the risk of fire and damages would not have been an adequate remedy (these are all the attributes of a true warranty as highlighted by Rix, LJ in HIH Casualty & General Insurance v New Hampshire Insurance Co [2001] EWCA Civ 735, at [101]). In fact the judge himself appreciated that the term carried all these attributes! It is, therefore, arguable that this was a true warranty.

In the end, the judge’s classification of the clause as a “suspensory provision” had no impact on the outcome. In the present case, the cover was suspended from the outset as the electrical survey had not been concluded 5 years after the previous one by the time the policy had been incepted.

The outcome is in line with the recent trend in the judiciary, i.e. to avoid classifying terms as warranties due to the harshness of the remedy they attract in case of their breach. (see, for example, Sugar Hut Group v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) Plc [2010] EWHC 2636 (Comm)) Of course, had the case been considered under the Insurance Act 2015 a different outcome could have been possible. Under s. 11 of the 2015 Act, the assured could possibly argue that this was a term designed to reduce the risk of a particular type (i.e. fire that is caused by electrical default) and the assured should be able to recover for the loss if he can show that its breach did not increase the risk of the loss which occurred in the circumstances in which it occurred.

It is worth noting that s. 11 is not available in cases where the term in question is designed to define the risk in a general way. The author does not think that the clause in question is of that nature but nevertheless one should be alert to the fact that this kind of disputes could arise under the new Act as s. 11 introduces a type of causation test from the backdoor (even though the Law Commissions were desperate to avoid such an outcome!). (for a more analytical evaluation on s. 11 and the effect of changes on law see- B. Soyer, “Risk Control Clauses in Insurance Law: Law Reform and the Future” (2016) Cambridge Law Journal 109)

CTL Assessment in Marine Insurance

The Swedish Club v Connect Shipping (The MV Renos) [2018] EWCA Civ 230

The insured vessel, the Renos, was on a laden voyage in the Red Sea in August 2012 when a fire broke out. The owners sought assistance and on 23 August a salvage agreement (in LOF form) was signed to deliver the vessel to a place of safety. The salvors invoked the SCOPIC clause immediately and brought the vessel to anchorage off the Suez Canal on 31 August. The owner’s surveyor inspected the vessel and estimated that the repair cost would be in the region of US$ 8 million. The insurer’s surveyor, on the other hand, valued the repair costs around US$ 5.527 million. It was a common ground between the assured and insurer that to be declared as a constructive total loss (CTL) under s. 60 of the Marine Insurance Act (MIA) 1906, the repair costs needed to be in excess of US$ 8 million.

The vessel was towed to a place of safety, the port of Adabiya (Egypt), by the end of September 2012.  There, the owners in conjunction with the insurer’s surveyors drew up a repair specification which was completed by the end of November. In December, the owners received several repair quotations ranging from US$ 2.8 million to US$ 9 million. Discussions over the repairs continued between the assured and insurer throughout January 2013 and ultimately the owners issued a notice of abandonment on 1 February 2013.

The insurers refused to accept the notice of abandonment on the premise that it was not given within a reasonable time after receipt of reliable information of the loss and a reasonable time for inquiry, as stipulated by s. 62(3) of the MIA 1906. The trial judge, Knowles, J, delivered the judgment on this point [2016] EWHC 1580 (Comm) in favour of the assured indicating that due to the complexity of the repairs required and contradictory information received from different surveyors as to the cost of repairs, it was understandable why it took until 1 February 2013 for the assured to give notice of abandonment. Therefore, it was held that the assured did not lose its right to abandon the vessel to underwriters under s. 62(3) of the MIA 1906.  The insurers appealed to the Court of Appeal on this point.

Another point of dispute was the type of costs that can be taken into account for the purposes of the CTL calculation. Relying on the wording of s. 60(2)(ii) of the MIA 1906, which stipulates that “in estimating the costs of repairs…. account is to be taken of the expense of the future salvage operations” the insurers argued, unsuccessfully before the trial judge, that the costs incurred prior to the date of date of the notice of abandonment should not be included. It was also argued that the payment due under the SCOPIC clause should not be taken into account in estimating the costs of repairs. This argument was also rejected. The insurers also appealed against these findings to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is momentous especially on the issue of calculation of cost of repairs for identifying whether CTL can be declared on the premise that “the cost of repairing the damage would exceed the value of the ship when repaired”.  Hamblen, LJ, who delivered the judgment of the Court of Appeal, was of the opinion that the relevant date for calculating the costs of repair for this purpose was the date of the casualty. The reference to “future” in s. 60 (2)(ii) was justified on the premise that this was a word of inclusion rather than exclusion making it clear that future costs should be taken into account alongside those already incurred. This certainly makes sense considering how matters progress in practice. Once a casualty arises, the first consideration of any owner is to appoint a salvor to assist his ship rather than sending a notice of abandonment to their hull insurers just in case the casualty is serious and the cost of repair (including salvage cost) is high enough to justify abandoning the insured vessel to underwriters. At that stage, the assured simply does not possess adequate information to be able to make a decision as to whether to send a notice of abandonment or not.

The decision of the Court of Appeal on the SCOPIC expenses could prove to be more controversial. In the present case, the cost of the salvage operation was around US$ 1.2 million for the notional Art. 13 salvage award and US$ 1.428 million in respect of SCOPIC paid over and above the Art. 13 award. It was the contention of the insurers that the SCOPIC costs should not be taken into account as costs within s. 60(2)(ii) of the MIA 1906 as the SCOPIC remuneration was conceptually different from Art. 13 award payable and not payable under the hull and machinery policy. Affirming the first instance judgment, Hamblen, LJ, rejected this contention. He was of the opinion that the benefit that was conferred on the insured property by the SCOPIC services could not be easily divorced from the benefit under Art. 13 award. Put differently, had there been no SCOPIC element, the insured vessel would presumably have been declared economically unsalvageable and, therefore, a wreck. Therefore, in determining whether the vessel had become a CTL it should be disregarded which insurer (hull and machinery insurer or P & I Club) pays which part of the salvage award. The author understands the reasoning behind this decision. But it ultimately means that in determining whether CTL under a hull and machinery policy has arisen, costs which do not fall for indemnity under that policy (i.e. SCOPIC award) should be taken into account. One might regard this outcome counter-intuitive and even slightly peculiar and it is possible that insurers might wish to reverse this position by adding clauses to the contracts in future to the effect that SCOPIC reward should not be taken into account in calculating costs under s. 60(2)(ii) of the MIA 1906.

The decision of the Court of Appeal on the point whether the assured had lost their right to abandon the vessel to them under s. 62(3) of the MIA 1906 does not set a precedent but is a good illustration of the difficulties that can emerge after a casualty in determining whether notice of abandonment was given in a reasonable amount of time. On this point too, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the first instance judge. Hamblen, LJ, stressed that in determining whether notice of abandonment was given in a reasonable time the factual context needed to be examined carefully. The nature of the casualty in this case meant that obtaining reliable information about the loss would inevitably be complex and take time. Also, given that the repairs required were likely to be substantial and complex, it would have been very difficult to have reliable information as to loss until quotations from various shipyards had been received. Such quotations were not received until early December. Furthermore, insurers on several occasions challenged the findings of the assured’s surveyor making it rather difficult for the assured to have reliable information to make a decision as to whether they would abandon their interest to the insurer or not. Hamblen, LJ, concluded on this point at [58] by stating “…the Insurers chose at the time to carry out their own detailed surveys so as to produce their own repair specification and quotations for repair costs, which they relied upon to demonstrate that the Vessel was not a CTL. They shared that information with the Owners, insisted on its correctness, and can hardly complain if it is taken into account in considering whether there was reliable information of the loss.”

Independent Contractors Facing Unlimited Liability!

JD Irving Ltd v. Siemens Canada Ltd (The SPM 125) 2016 FC 287 (Federal Court of Canada)

 The shipowners, JDI, engaged a firm of marine consultants to prepare stability calculations in respect of the loading of a cargo of large industrial equipment on and off the barge SPM125. During the loading process, the cargo was damaged and the owner of the cargo brought an action against the carrier claiming damages (CAD$45,000,000). The cargo owner also brought an action against the firm of marine consultants and the naval architect (who was the principal of that firm and had carried out the calculations) for the same amount.

The question that arose in this case was whether the firm of consultants had a right to limit their liability under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976, as amended by the Protocol of 1996, which has been incorporated into Canadian law by Part 3 of the Marine Liability Act.

Article 1(4) of the Convention stipulates:

If any claims set out in Article 2 are made against any person for whose act, neglect or default the shipowner or salvor is responsible, such person shall be entitled to avail himself of the limitation of liability provided for in this Convention.

There is no firm judicial reasoning on this point and differing opinions have been expressed in text books. The Court has subscribed to the view that Article 1(4) would afford limitation to a person if the shipowner or salvor has vicarious liability for the actions of that person. This would be the case when the negligence of a master or crew member gives rise to a claim by a third party against the owner or salvor. The crew or master in that case would accordingly have a right to limit their liability under the Convention. However, the relationship between an employer and an independent contractor would not usually give rise to a claim for vicarious liability and on that basis, such contractors are not afforded a right to limit their liability under Article 1(4) of the Convention. Applying this reasoning, it was held that the marine consultants in the present case could not enjoy the right of limitation.

The decision is a significant one as it adopts a new yardstick in determining whose actions a shipowner and/or salvor is responsible for in the context of the application of Article 1(4) of the Limitation Convention 1976 as amended by 1996 Protocol. The relevant party is able to limit its liability if the shipowner and/or salvor has vicarious liability for the actions of that party. Apart from marine consultants, classification societies, freight forwarders and logistics experts are likely to fall under this category. The judgment is not binding on English courts but obviously its reasoning needs to be considered carefully when the issue does arise, in addition, it sends a strong warning to the liability insurers of independent contractors as lack of the prospect of limitation would mean a huge increase in the exposure that they might face!

 

Farewell to the “Fraudulent Devices” Doctrine!

The recent decision of the Supreme Court in Versloot Dredging BV v. HDI Gerling Industrie Versicherung (The DC Merwestone) [2016] UKSC 45 has hit the insurance market like a bombshell! For more than a decade, it has been assumed that if a fraudulent device (such as a “lie”) is used to promote an honest claim, as long as the device used is material in the sense that it is likely to provide an advantage to the assured in securing a settlement, the claim will be treated as a “fraudulent” one. The Supreme Court ruled with a majority (4:1) that this is not the case!

The facts are relatively straightforward. The assured’s vessel, The DC Merwestone, suffered a flooding incident in January 2010. The incident resulted in irreparable damage to her engine, located at the aft end, even though water ingress was through the bow thruster space at the forward end of the vessel. The assured claimed from its hull insurer for the cost of replacing the damaged engine. The coverage defences put forward by the underwriters were rejected by the first instance judge, Popplewell, J, but he held that the assured had forfeited its otherwise valid claim as he used fraudulent devices in advancing said claim. During the casualty investigation, the underwriters’ solicitors sought the assured’s explanation for the ingress, its spread from the bow thruster room to the engine room and the reason why the crew were unable to control it using the vessel’s pumps. The assured’s General Manager responded in a letter which contained a representation that the crew had reported that they had heard a bilge alarm (which would have alerted the crew to the flooding) at noon on the day of the casualty but had failed to investigate the alarm on the basis that its sounding had been attributed to the rolling of the vessel. The representation was untrue in that the crew had never heard or reported a noon alarm and had never given an explanation for not investigating. This representation was held to be a reckless untruth.

The majority of the Court – Lord Sumption, Lord Clarke, Lord Hughes and Lord Toulson – appreciating that this is essentially a policy question considered it to be “a step too far” and “disproportionately harsh” to deprive an assured of his claim by reason of his fraudulent conduct if at trial years later it turns out that the fraudulent device used at the claims stage had been unnecessary because the claim was in fact always recoverable. Their Lordships seem to be influenced by the fact that an assured utilising fraudulent devices to advance his claim still has a genuine belief in the accuracy of the claim whilst the same cannot be said for an assured who creates the loss in order to make a claim or who exaggerates the extent of his claim. It is worth noting that Lord Mance delivered a dissenting judgment arguing that “Abolishing the fraudulent devices rule means that claimants pursuing a bad, exaggerated or questionable claim can tell lies with virtual impunity.”

This decision means that an insurer will not be able to defend against a claim in a case where the assured uses fraudulent invoices to secure a quick settlement for his claim (see, for example, Sharon’ Bakery (Euorope) Ltd v. AXA Insurance UK plc [2011] EWHC 210 (Comm)) unless, of course, the policy contains an express clause indicating that the claim will be forfeited if promoted by making use of fraudulent devices. Such express terms are common in fire policies but perhaps, in the light of this decision, insurers should consider incorporating them into marine and energy policies as well. Institute Hull Clauses 2003 could lead the way. Clause 45.3 stipulates:

“It shall be a condition precedent to the liability of the Underwriters that the Assured shall not at any stage prior to the commencement of legal proceedings knowingly or recklessly
… mislead or attempt to mislead the Underwriters in the proper consideration of a claim or the settlement thereof by relying on any evidence which is false
… conceal any circumstance or matter from the Underwriters material to the proper consideration of a claim or a defence to such a claim.”

Carriers Be Aware!!!! (Contribution Claims Fall outside the Athens Regime)

All personal injury, loss of life or loss of / damage to luggage claims must be brought against the carrier (contracting or performing) under Art 14 of the Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (Athens Convention), however, the Convention does not purport to be a complete Code governing all liabilities of sea carriers – for example, it is silent both with regard to claims of passengers against the carrier in cases of cancellation of the scheduled voyage and with rights of recourse as between carriers and other parties.

What about a contribution claim brought by a third party against the carrier? Would such claims be subject to the time bar provisions of the Athens Convention? This was the primary discussion point in Feest v. South Strategic Health Authority and Another [2015] EWCA Civ 708. In August 2008, the claimant sustained a spinal injury while on a boat tour with her work colleagues (as part of a team building exercise) in the Bristol Channel. She sued her employer and sought damages for her injury. Her employer then issued a Part 20 claim against the owner of the boat for contribution under s. 1(1) of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978. Granting the application of the owner for a summary judgment on the Part 20 claim, the district judge dismissed the claim on the ground that it was time bared (as it was brought later than 2 years, stipulated by Art 16 of the Athens Convention).  The defendant employer’s appeal was dismissed by Judge Havelock-Allan QC, sitting as a judge of the Queen’s Bench of the Bristol Mercantile Court. The defendant then appealed to the Court of Appeal which reversed the said judgment.  It was held that a claim for contribution is autonomous from the Athens Convention and it derives from the English domestic statute entitlement to contribution. On that basis, the time bar provisions of the Athens Convention would not apply to a contribution claim. An alternative argument, developed by the counsel for the carrier to the effect that Art 16 of the Athens Convention extinguishes the right for an action rather than bars the remedy of court proceedings, was also rejected by the Court of Appeal. This might come as a surprise to continental lawyers as, in continental jurisdictions, time bar provisions usually have the effect of extinguishing the right to any claim (including contribution rights). However, unlike Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention, Article 16 of the Athens Convention does not address this issue with any real definitive language and leaves it to national law to determine the effect of the time bar provision. In English law, the effect of time bar provisions is normally to deny the plaintiff a right of action after a certain period has elapsed but the right is not extinguished.

From the perspective of international maritime law, the outcome of the Court of Appeal is disappointing but the fact remains that the UK legal system is dualist in nature and in the absence of clear language used in an international convention, disputes as to interpretation of provisions of a convention will be resolved by the application of the national law, which is, of course, what happened here!