Safely Approach Port

It is vital that the vessel must be able to approach the port to which she has been ordered safely. An interesting and leading case on safe ports case which illustrates this aspect of safety is ‘The Sussex Oak’ (1950). The facts are as follows: “In January 1947 the Sussex Oak was ordered to proceed to Hamburg. The ship had been chartered under the then Baltime form with an express term of safe ports. The ship took on a pilot to navigate the River Elbe on the approach to Hamburg. There was ice in the river but the pilot said that it was safe to navigate. Eventually, on the approach to the port, the vessel met a large ice floe. As she could not turn, anchor or go astern, the vessel had to force her way through. she suffered damage as a result of forcing the ice. A claim was made by the owners for the costs of repairs and other losses suffered. The case was heard in the English High Court and one of the great judges of the time Devlin J (who later became Lord Devlin) made the following statement in giving judgment. ‘In my judgment there is a breach of (the safety warranty) if the vessel is employed upon a voyage to a port which she cannot safely reach. It is immaterial in point of law where the danger is located, though it is obvious in point of fact that the more remote it is from the port the less likely it is to interfere with the safety of the voyage. The charterer does not guarantee that the most direct route or any particular route to the port is safe, but the voyage charterers order must be one which an ordinarily prudent and skilful master can find a way of making in safety.” Again, what this case shows is that while a port may often be considered safe in usual circumstances there will be events, which are not abnormal, that can make it unsafe in particular conditions or for a specific part of the call. There have been other examples of ports where an approach may cause unsafety but which may overlap with the previous category of ‘particular ship’. In a case involving the port of Manchester a vessel would have had to dismantle her mast in order to pass under a bridge on the approach; the court found it to be unsafe for that ship. Where a bar has to be passed on entry to a port and a ship cannot do so without lightening then again the courts have held this to be unsafe. But the danger does have to be real. In ‘The Saga Cob’ case, there was guerrilla activity in the port area and there had been one attack on a vessel a few months before the Saga Cob was ordered to the port. In that case, because the adverse activity had been sporadic and there was a naval protection system for vessels entering and leaving the port it was held not to be unsafe.