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Transport

Owner of fishing vessel liable for collision as Officer on watch fell asleep

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Legal news
calendar 6 December 2020
globus Denmark

The case concerned a collision between a fishing vessel and an anchored tanker. The fishing vessel was navigating by autopilot and the officer on watch was supposed to manually steer clear of the tanker. However, the officer fell asleep and the vessel collided with the tanker. The Court found that the owner of the fishing vessel was solely liable and should pay compensation as the tanker’s crew had kept proper lookout. However, the tanker’s waste tanks had to be emptied regardless of the collision, and therefore the cost was deducted from the compensation.

A fishing vessel sailed from port at night. On board were three crew members, two sleeping below deck. The vessel’s autopilot was turned on, but the officer on watch had to manually steer clear of anchoring ships outside the port. According to the plotted course, the vessel would have to steer clear of a large tanker. However, the officer on watch fell asleep resulting in a collision with the tanker.

Prior to the collision, the officer on watch on the tanker had seen the fishing vessel approaching. He did not react as it was common in the area for smaller vessels to sail close by without any problems.

After the collision, the owner of the tanker sued the owner of the fishing vessel for the cost of repair. The owner of the fishing vessel claimed that responsibility should be divided because the officer on watch on the tanker had observed the fishing vessel approaching. In addition, the owner of the fishing vessel claimed that the tanker’s crew should have been more cautious to avoid the collision, as the tanker had active radar equipment onboard.

In connection with the repair of the tanker, a class inspection was also carried out. This was already planned before the collision. For the repair and inspection to be carried out, the tanker’s waste tanks had to be emptied. The owner of the fishing vessel claimed that this expense was not recoverable as it the inspection would have occurred regardless of the collision.

The Maritime and Commercial High Court: The fishing vessel was solely liable for the collision

The Court found that the crew of the tanker had kept proper lookout from the bridge. The Court stated that the tanker could not be held liable for the collision, as it was common in the area not to react to approaching fishing vessels.

The Court found that the collision was caused by the officer on watch falling asleep and that the alarm onboard was turned off. It was also emphasized that the course set by the autopilot showed that the fishing vessel would have to steer clear of the tanker to avoid collision. Therefore, the owner of the fishing vessel was solely liable for the collision.

The cost of emptying the ship’s waste tanks could however be deducted from the total statement of loss, as the tanker would have had to empty the waste tanks during the class inspection regardless of the collision.

IUNO’s opinion

The division of liability was probably not a question in this case, as the tanker was anchored, and the lights were in order. However, the case does highlight a well-known problem, when a ship is repaired after a collision, grounding or similar situations. Here, questions often arise about work that would have to be carried out as part of the ship’s general maintenance in any event. IUNO recommends that damages should be carefully recorded when they occur, including specification of the necessary repairs to avoid such issues as much as possible.

[The Maritime and Commercial High Court’s ruling in case BS-44685/2019-SHR on 26 October 2020]

A fishing vessel sailed from port at night. On board were three crew members, two sleeping below deck. The vessel’s autopilot was turned on, but the officer on watch had to manually steer clear of anchoring ships outside the port. According to the plotted course, the vessel would have to steer clear of a large tanker. However, the officer on watch fell asleep resulting in a collision with the tanker.

Prior to the collision, the officer on watch on the tanker had seen the fishing vessel approaching. He did not react as it was common in the area for smaller vessels to sail close by without any problems.

After the collision, the owner of the tanker sued the owner of the fishing vessel for the cost of repair. The owner of the fishing vessel claimed that responsibility should be divided because the officer on watch on the tanker had observed the fishing vessel approaching. In addition, the owner of the fishing vessel claimed that the tanker’s crew should have been more cautious to avoid the collision, as the tanker had active radar equipment onboard.

In connection with the repair of the tanker, a class inspection was also carried out. This was already planned before the collision. For the repair and inspection to be carried out, the tanker’s waste tanks had to be emptied. The owner of the fishing vessel claimed that this expense was not recoverable as it the inspection would have occurred regardless of the collision.

The Maritime and Commercial High Court: The fishing vessel was solely liable for the collision

The Court found that the crew of the tanker had kept proper lookout from the bridge. The Court stated that the tanker could not be held liable for the collision, as it was common in the area not to react to approaching fishing vessels.

The Court found that the collision was caused by the officer on watch falling asleep and that the alarm onboard was turned off. It was also emphasized that the course set by the autopilot showed that the fishing vessel would have to steer clear of the tanker to avoid collision. Therefore, the owner of the fishing vessel was solely liable for the collision.

The cost of emptying the ship’s waste tanks could however be deducted from the total statement of loss, as the tanker would have had to empty the waste tanks during the class inspection regardless of the collision.

IUNO’s opinion

The division of liability was probably not a question in this case, as the tanker was anchored, and the lights were in order. However, the case does highlight a well-known problem, when a ship is repaired after a collision, grounding or similar situations. Here, questions often arise about work that would have to be carried out as part of the ship’s general maintenance in any event. IUNO recommends that damages should be carefully recorded when they occur, including specification of the necessary repairs to avoid such issues as much as possible.

[The Maritime and Commercial High Court’s ruling in case BS-44685/2019-SHR on 26 October 2020]

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Mads

Poulsen

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Lars

Rosenberg Overby

Partner

Aage

Krogh

Partner

Mads

Christopher Whitta-Jacobsen

Associate

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