Admiralty court apportions liability under Collision Regulations’ crossing rules

Wilforce LLC and Anr v Ratu Shipping Co.SA and Anr [20.05.2022]

The Admiralty court handed down judgment on 20 May 2022 in Wilforce LLC v Ratu Shipping Co.SA in which it considered the scope and application of the Collison Regulations’ crossing rules and where they should, or should not, be overridden.

Background

In May 2019, the WILFORCE and WESTERN MOSCOW collided in a ‘precautionary area’ of the Singapore Straits when the WESTERN MOSCOW, which had intended to join the westbound lane of the Straits Traffic Separation Scheme at the western area of the strait entered instead at the eastern end of the straits proceeding southbound.

This resulted in the vessel having to execute a port turn, back down the westbound lane of the traffic system. At this time, the WILFORCE was proceeding at speed (later found to be unsafe) towards the precautionary area.

The Court was asked to consider whether the duty of good seamanship or the crossing rules should govern the responsibility between the vessels in such situations.

Application of the crossing rules

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Collision Regulations) include a set of 38 internationally agreed rules that govern the conduct of ships at sea in order to prevent collisions between them. Included in the Collision Regulations are the crossing rules, which govern situations where vessels are crossing and involve the risk of collision (Rule 15).

The WESTERN MOSCOW owners alleged that the WIFORCE failed to act in accordance with rule 16 of the crossing rules, whereas they had acted in accordance with Rule 17(a)(i) by maintaining its course and speed. As such, it submitted that WILFORCE should bear the blame.

In response, the WILFORCE submitted that WESTERN MOSCOW could not rely on the crossing rule when it had, itself created the crossing situation.

This was, as WESTERN MOSCOW submitted, inconsistent with the recent decision in Nautical Challenge Ltd V Evergreen Marine (UK) Limited (EVER SMART) in which the Supreme Court found that the crossing rules applied where the bearing of one vessel from another remained constant. The Supreme Court emphasised in that case that the Collision Regulations must be interpreted in a practical, uniform manner to provide clear navigational rules for all mariners and vessels.

Court’s decision

In handing down its decision, the court found that the authorities relied upon were not necessarily entirely consistent, especially in light of the EVER SMART decision. However, it was, in any event ruled that the result would have been the same regardless of whether the decision was based upon the duty of good seamanship or whether it was as a breach of the crossing rules.

Accordingly, the WESTERN MOSCOW was found to be 75% liable for not keeping a proper lookout. The WILFORCE was held to be 25% liable for failing to reduce speed when the risk of collision became apparent.

Comment

Despite guidance from the Supreme Court in the EVER SMART, this matter serves to remind us that the previous authorities on this issue are difficult to reconcile. Despite having the opportunity to do so, the court did not address the question of whether a stand on vessel who has created a crossing situation, can invoke the crossing rules. As such, the case remains that the crossing rules should not be overridden unless there is a necessitating reason.