Hague- Visby Rules: Whether shipowner had exercised due diligence (case comment)

Queen's Bench Division (Commercial Court)

09 February 2006

The claimant cargo interests (P) sued the defendant shipowners (H) in respect of damage caused to a process vessel required for a gas plant that fell from a crane while being loaded onto H's ship. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The process vessel was a large cylindrical object weighing 833 tonnes. The process vessel was being lifted from a low loader on the quay by means of the ship's two cranes when, just as the cranes had completed the vertical lift and were swinging the vessel inboard, one of the double ramshorn hooks on the aft crane broke and the process vessel fell to the ground. The hook had failed at its shank as a result of a brittle fracture because it suffered from casting defects. The hook had never been tested to its safe working load of 250 tonnes. If the hook had been proof tested to 250 tonnes it would have broken and the accident would never have happened. H contended that it could not be liable for the negligence of the manufacturers of the ship, crane or hook prior to the delivery of the ship to it by the shipbuilders, that H had not been negligent before that date and that after that date it had exercised due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy within the meaning of the Hague-Visby Rules Art.III r.1.

Held, giving judgment for P, that (1) in the circumstances the ship did not come under H's control or "within its orbit" until delivery from the shipbuilders, Riverstone Meat Co Pty Ltd v Lancashire Shipping Co Ltd (The Muncaster Castle) [1961] A.C. 807 considered. Therefore H was not responsible for any negligence of others prior to the delivery of the ship. (2) H had failed to discharge the burden of showing that it did exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy under Art.III r.1, after it took delivery. H failed to appreciate on and after handover that there had been no adequate proof testing of the hooks. After delivery of the ship a special exemption had been obtained from the classification society for the purposes of lifting the process vessel. H did not exercise due diligence in relation to obtaining that extension and the classification society, for whose failings H was responsible, had not carried out its function of granting the extension with due diligence. (3) The failure to exercise due diligence was causative of the damage. (4) Further, the loading of the process vessel was not carried out properly and carefully within the meaning of Art.III r.2 of the Hague-Visby Rules. (5) P had adequately proved the amount of their losses.

Judge: Gloster, J.

Counsel: For the claimants: Richard Lord QC, Simon Salzedo. For the defendant: Nigel Jacobs, Christopher Smith.

Solicitor: For the claimants: Barlow Lyde & Gilbert. For the defendant: Winter Scott.

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