Admiralty

The owners had long since delegated the operation and management of the vessel to English ship managers who had supplied charts to the ship. The Admiralty judge, hearing the application to limit, initially granted limitation on the grounds that the provision and maintenance of the charts was the sole responsibility of the Master and it was his negligence in using an out-of-date chart which was the sole cause of the damage/losses. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision on the grounds that it was the ship manager’s duty to ensure that there was an effective and properly supervised system of chart provision and maintenance and such a system was absent in this case. This lack of adequate system was emphasised by the fact that a Liberian inspectorate report, issued over a year before the pipeline incident, and which drew particular attention to the lack of correct updating of the charts, had gone unheeded and unacted upon. This failing upon the part of the ship’s managers was considered by the House of Lords to be directly causative of the oil companies’ losses, and, furthermore, the owners in turn were to be held legally responsible for the negligence of their managers. Thus the owners were personally at fault and were, therefore denied the right to limit. The phrase ‘or recklessly and with knowledge that such loss would probably result’ in Article 4 is to say the least, harsh. ‘Recklessness’ is a word that raises difficulties with definition in English law – is ‘recklessness’ to be defined by an objective or subjective test? Guidance can be sought from an analogous situation under the Warsaw Convention. In Goldman v Thai Airways International (1983) the Court of Appeal said that the word ‘recklessly’ had (in respect of Art 25 of the Warsaw Convention) to be construed along with the words ‘and with knowledge that damage would probably result’.