The Bahamas has been at the vanguard of marine services for decades. The value to the local economy of the numerous marinas and docks here that are used by private and commercial vessels can’t be underestimated. Marina owners take on responsibility for these vessels when moored in their facilities so there’s a risk of high value legal claims following any damage to vessels. Damage might arise following severe weather episodes that expose flaws in the construction of a marina or from some kind of negligence on the marina owner’s part that results in damage to a vessel.
ParrisWhittaker is a team of award-winning lawyers headquartered in the Bahamas and with offices in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and overseas. We advise on all shipping-related matters and are on hand to provide practical guidance when a legal dispute arises. We’re available on 1-242-352-6110 and 1-242-352-6112 or you can always contact us online.
LIMITS ON LIABILITY
Historically legislation has limited the financial liability of dock owners when commercial vessels are damaged – even where the liability of the facility owner is not in doubt. Cases involving damage to commercial vessels can be hugely expensive, and the thinking was that such caps on liability provided essential commercial certainty. A recent UK case from the UK Court of Appeal even appears to extend this protection to the owners of marinas where private vessels are anchored. The case offers reassurance to marina owners. But it is also a salutary lesson to owners of private vessels that, when it comes to suing for damage to a yacht moored in a marina or dock, recovery of damages may be limited. This is the case even when the liability of the marina owner is not in doubt. We discuss the case below.
MARINA SERVICES IN THE BAHAMAS
The yachting sector in the Bahamas continues to evolve, and The Bahamas Maritime Authority has demonstrated its commitment to effective regulation for the yachting community. The Bahamas is the only flag for example with a dedicated code for small vessels. Increasingly valuable and sophisticated private super yachts and other vessels have in recent years become a regular feature of marinas and other docking facilities in The Bahamas. Owners should always be tuned into the legal position should their maritime property be damaged in any way while in The Bahamas. The Holyhead case we discuss below illustrates why.
HOLYHEAD MARINA V. PETER FARRER 
Severe storms are not uncommon in the Welsh port of Holyhead. But a violent storm in March 2018 almost destroyed the marina and almost 100 vessels moored there sunk or were badly damaged. Claims against the marine owners for damage had the potential to rise above £5million because vessel owners argued the marina had severe design flaws and this had exacerbated the storm damage.
The marina owners sought to engage the Merchant Shipping Act (the MSA) limitation of liability clause so that any payout would be in the region of £500,000. Disputes like this are the kind of case our shipping lawyers deal with in a regular basis.
The case rested on whether Holyhead Marina was a ‘dock’ within the meaning of the MSA. The vessel owners argued that the MSA was there to protect the commercial shipping sector and provide commercial certainty. It was never designed, the owners argued, to protect owners of small private leisure craft like those damaged at Holyhead.
The Court of Appeal disagreed and found that the marina in Holyhead, made up of several pontoons, was as a whole a ‘landing place’ within the meaning of the legislation.
The UK Court of Appeal’s decision in the Holyhead Marina case should be of interest to anyone who regularly docks a private vessel in The Bahamas. That’s because judges here well use it as authority when deciding any Bahamas-based case. Our corresponding legislation is contained in s250 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1976 and is almost identical to the UK legislation under which the Holyhead case was decided.
For the avoidance of doubt the Holyhead decision means that owners of marinas that host private yachts and other leisure craft – in the UK at any rate – can take advantage of the protections afforded to commercial vessels in the MSA.
In passing it’s worth noting that in 2021 a new Merchant Shipping Act for the Bahamas was drafted. The legislation is expected to incorporate more modern and effective policies and procedures so that The Bahamas can remain competitive in today’s ever-evolving maritime sector. Whether this extends to any update of the rules about the liability of marina owners remains to be seen.