In Owners of the ship ‘Bulk Atlanta’ v Owners of the ship ‘Forest Pioneer’ – Butterworths Law Direct 29.1.07 the Admiralty Court, with the aid of nautical assessors, determined the apportionment of blame for a collision between two vessels in Gibraltar harbour.

The action arose out of a collision between the Claimant’s vessel ‘Bulk Atlanta’ and the Defendant’s vessel ‘Forest Pioneer’. At the material time, Bulk Atlanta was inward bound to Gibraltar for bunkers en route to Brazil. She was in ballast. Forest Pioneer outward bound from Gibraltar having bunkered, en route to Savannah. She was also in ballast. The collision occurred at 05.27, in dark conditions with both vessels exhibiting the usual navigation lights. There was a strong south westerly wind with intermittent heavy rain showers. Bulk Atlanta had picked up a pilot very shortly before the collision.

The dispute concerned the apportionment of blame for the collision. The issues included whether Forest Pioneer’s alteration of course and speed had been seamanlike, and whether Bulk Atlanta’s lookout had been inadequate.

It was held that, in terms of both course and speed, the alteration of Forest Pioneer had been grossly misjudged. It had transformed a situation of comparative safety into one of imminent risk of collision. Taking into account the fault of Bulk Atlanta in respect of her lookout, the appropriate apportionment would be 85:15, with Forest Pioneer bearing the greater portion.