Safe port – vessel damaged by fender mounted on the seawall of a berth – port held unsafe
The chartered vessel came alongside the Setramar berth in the port of Ravenna and was in the process of securing its moorings. This was a voyage charterparty with a safe berth warranty.
Before waiting for this process to be completed and without requesting permission from the chartered vessel, a second vessel passed the vessel in a narrow channel causing the vessel to heave and yaw.
The vessel’s hull was punctured by a submerged fender comprising of four large tyres and a steel baulk.
The inflow of water caused damage to a portion of the cargo of soya bean meal.
The owners sought to hold both the third party and the charterers liable for damage to the vessel and to the cargo.
In the Queen’s Bench Division (Admiralty Court), Sheen J held that the second vessel was negligent in failing to wait for the vessel to become fully secured before attempting to pass in the narrow channel.
Sheen J apportioned the damages in the ratio of two thirds to the third party and one third to the charterers.
The Court of Appeal (Russell, Farquharson and Hirst LJJ – judgement by Hirst LJ) upheld the judgement of Sheen J.
The facts of this matter were similar to those in the Houston City where the Privy Council held that the absence of protection from ranging against the seawall of a berth coupled with the absence of a bollard from which the vessel could be made fast, constituted unsafety.
The obligation of the charterers was seen as an absolute warranty of safety. It was accepted by implication that they could not reasonably have been aware of the danger. In this regard Hirst LJ remarked that the charterers could not be expected scout around ports such as Ravenna for hidden dangers.
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