In this case, the Admiralty Court discussed the apportionment of liability in collision cases involving vessels in a crossing situation.
This judgment highlights the likely consequences on the insurers in cases involving non-compliance with mandatory regulations - in this instance the Collision Regulations. Underwriters must as part of their due-diligence ensure that vessel owners have proper procedures in place for regular audits on board vessels, and that all crew hired are duly certified and experienced.
On 29 August 2020, at 2232 hrs, there was a collision between the FMG Sydney and the MSC Apollo in the approaches of Tianjin, China. Although it was dark, the visibility at the time was good and the weather was clam.
FMG SYDNEY was the outbound, ore carrier bound for Australia. MSC APOLLO was the inbound container ship heading into Tianjin. Both vessels suffered damage and the total security exchanged amounted to US$13.5 million.
The court heard that the vessels were at risk of collision 12 minutes before the collision occurred and that FMG SYDNEY was on the starboard side of MSC APOLLO. As a result, the Collision Regulations required that MSC APOLLO should take early and substantial action to keep well clear of FMG SYDNEY. MSC APOLLO failed to do this and instead made a number of turns to port and attempted to cross FMG SYDNEY’s bow.
Judge Sir Nigel Teare ruled that in doing so, MSC APOLLO was in breach of the Collision Regulations. The Master of MSC APOLLO had ignored his obligations under the Collision Regulations, and had used the VHF radio inappropriately for collision avoidance (seeking to confirm a passing option contrary to the Collision Regulations).
The court rejected criticisms of the lookout on the FMG SYDNEY and last-minute manoeuvre, and concluded that MSC APOLLO was solely responsible for the damage caused by the collision.
The court accordingly held the MSC APOLLO 100% liable for the collision.
It can be argued that, from a practical perspective, there must always be some action that each of the two vessels involved in a collision should take to avoid a close quarter situation developing and prevent an imminent collision; thereby sharing some percentage of the apportionment of liability.
Whilst previously it was unexceptional to see instances of vessels held 100% liable following collisions at sea, with technological progress and the rapid evolution of the industry best practices, it is considerably rare now for a vessel to be held fully responsible for a collision. But, as this case has shown, it can still occur.
This judgment emphatically asserts the importance of the understanding and strict adherence to the Collision Regulations at all times by the Bridge team on all vessels and the likely consequences of a breach.
Confirmation of whether the judgment will be appealed, the grounds of any appeal and if the appeal will be allowed are currently awaited.