The anchors of Réal Vallée’s fishing boat regularly snagged on something deep in the waters of the St Lawrence off Baie-Comeau, where he trawled for crab. Mr Vallée thought he had identified it on a visit to the local history museum, which displayed a map indicating an old underwater cable as abandonné. Fed up with the cable, he resolved to cut it once and for all. Not a smart move: he severed an active telecommunications cable owned by Société Telus and Hydro-Québec, which sued Vallée, his company and his ship (in rem) for damages.
The Federal Court and then the Federal Court of Appeal found against him: Peramco Inc v Société Telus Communications, 2012 FCA 199. Damages ended up at a figure just over $1 million. Ironically, if Vallée had abandoned his own anchor and line, his loss would have been $250, recoverable from the cable’s owners. Vallée should have been aware that the cable was a known navigational hazard, and his reliance on the museum’s chart was misguided. The cable’s owners were not contributorily negligent, and because Vallée’s cutting of the cable was intentional he could not avail himself of the $500,000 limitation of liability for maritime claims under the Maritime Liability Act and related international conventions. He also disqualified himself from reliance on his insurance policy, which had an exclusion for wilful misconduct causing third-party loss.
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