Liability in Maritime Accidents

21 Apr 2022

We have seen a rapid growth of the maritime industry over centuries due to a surge in international seaborne trade. Shipping operations are becoming more common, which has resulted in some waterway congestion. Ship accidents, such as collisions, groundings, and contacting, are inextricably linked to intensive shipping activities. Human lives could be lost, freight could be damaged, and the environment could be damaged due to ship collisions. Even the most modern and complex navigation instruments and improved communication technologies have failed to prevent shipping accidents.


A shipping accident may be defined as an unintended or volitional incident or change that occurs due to carelessness, unawareness, negligence, or a combination of reasons, resulting in an unfavorable and unfortunate result. Any shipping accident, regardless of the cause, is a tragic occurrence. If it occurs in a confined area, such as a river or a strait with heavy traffic, some severe risks are likely to arise. On the other hand, a significant shipping accident becomes much more important as a result of, say, water ingress, which may intensify the ship’s damage stability if compounded by extreme weather or strong current. However, owing to oil spillage in several other incidents, the problem becomes environmental. The causes of accidents are often dynamic since several different factors influence the cause of an accident. Because of this complex interplay, shipping accident causes can be defined in a number of ways. The following reasons are responsible for the majority of shipping accidents:


a) Crew negligence/human factor: Three of the top five causes of accidents are often caused by crew error. Lack of adequate expertise and skill, technical inability, poor look-out, not paying enough attention to protocols and regulations, misinterpretations of radar information, carelessness in commanding a ship, exhaustion and lack of alertness, overworking, inadequate rest times, and so on are all examples of human errors.


b) Abnormal working conditions: Natural phenomena such as currents, tides, and tidal waters, severe wind, decreased visibility (fog, dense snow, and rain), storm seas, and so on, would all impact the ship and those in control of it.


c) Technical defects: Technical failures are faults in the ship, such as rust or corrosion, steering failure, engine failure caused by faulty materials or construction, or by shore-based installations, which include navigation aids.


Definition of Collision

Collision is the term for the physical impact caused by a destructive physical impact between two ships. It is also possible between two ships or to even hit an iceberg or even a port to cause the specific collision. In each of these instances, the result is, to say the least, catastrophic. The cost-effectiveness or the monetary loss caused by such an event cannot necessarily be calculated. The rise of the high-sea traffic and technical progress in naval infrastructure also raised the risk of such accidents considerably with the construction of heavy and large vessels of high speed.


The repercussions are unimaginable when ship collisions occur. First, the loss of life is often damage that can never be paid for and is irreparable. In such situations, the risks of losing a life are very high. Secondly, the environmental impact of either of the collision vessels is particularly negative if they carry any toxic substances or substances that may be hazardous for sea life. An oil tanker is an excellent example, and a large number of tanker accidents have occurred worldwide.


Collision under the UAE Maritime Law

The UAE Maritime Law, which is the (Maritime Code) of article 318, shall describe a collision occurring between ships, regardless of whether physical contact has taken place; the UAE legislation shall permit victims to recover from tortfeasors, except when no physical contact has taken place where there has been harm incurred by a ship, goods or persons on board, by a ship, or by failure to act or by breach of navigational regulations. Articles 318 to 326 of the Commercial Maritime Law regulates collisions. The principles are very similar to those of the 1910 Convention on Collisions. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates also agreed to the 1972 International Collision Prevention Regulations.


Liability and Damages Arising out of Collisions

As in many other jurisdictions, a collision is caused by either a vessel’s fault, force majeure, or because of an unknown cause. The assessment of the liability distribution would be decided by the evaluation of who is at fault. If a court finds that one vessel was at fault in the event of a collision, its owner is liable to compensate or pay damages to claimants for the loss they have suffered, as stated in article 320 of the Maritime Code. Article 322 (1) of the Maritime Code lays down that where more than one party is at fault, the liabilities of each vessel shall be determined in the proportion of its default and it shall be distributed between them equally where conditions make it impossible to determine the degree of fault of each vessel. Force majeure is the legal principle that is widely used to label an unknown cause or irresistible force beyond the control of any party. Examples of force majeure under maritime law involve natural forces like a flood or hurricane leading to a collision between vessels. Each party is expressly exempted from liability to the other under article 319 of the UAE Maritime Code, and a vessel shall be liable for its own damages only.


As mentioned above, the owner of the ship considered at fault for the collision is liable to compensate the victims for damages caused by the collision. For the division of damages, where the collision has been found to be responsible for more than one vessel, article 321 of the UAE Maritime Code specifies, in proportion to the fault of more than one vessel, the damages shall be assessed and divided. In fact, each vessel will only remain liable for their own proportion of percentage of the fault. To connect with the expert, if UAE Maritime law is involved in your dispute, reach our Maritime legal team at Fotis International Law firm. With having years of expertise in dealing with such related cases we could assist you too.