Following the occurrence of sudden gale force winds which led to a moored vessel inflicting severe damage to a port crane, the Court had to decide which of the port terminal or the shipowner was liable.
In June 2011, the containership “XIN XIA MEN” (the Vessel) was berthed at the terminal port of Genoa, Italy, discharging containers. While high winds are common in Genoa, and specific guidance is issued for the port, during a three minute period, winds rose from 7 km/hr from the North, to force 9 winds in excess of 75 km/hr from the South-West.
As a result of the sudden squall, the Vessel’s lines rendered, her aft spring lines broke and she was blown off the quay. During the subsequent re-berthing manoeuvre, the Vessel connected with a 70 meter shore crane, resulting in severe damage and in a claim in excess of EUR 1.5 million.
Under a contract between the parties, the owner and operator of the container terminal (the Terminal) agreed to provide certain services to the shipowners (the Owners). The contract contained implied terms that:
- The Owners would conduct themselves with reasonable skill and care at all times when using the terminal;
- The Terminal would exercise reasonable skill and care towards users of the terminal
The Terminal alleged that the damage was caused by the negligence of the Vessel in that she was improperly moored and/or that she was re-berthed in a negligent manner. The defendant Owners contended that the damage was caused, or contributed to, by the unsafety of the berth and/or the Terminal’s negligence.
The Court concluded that the rendering (slacking) of the lines was the effective cause of the Vessel moving away from the berth, and also of the spring lines breaking. The key point for consideration, with respect to the allegations of negligent mooring, was therefore the cause of the rendering.
The Court found that the most likely ground was the brakes not being properly tightened, and the most likely cause of the slackening of one of the stern lines was crew error. Negligent mooring was therefore considered the effective cause of the Vessel being blown off the berth. She should have been able to withstand the wind loads
Mr Justice Hamblen found that the Vessel was not navigated back to the berth in a proper and seamanlike manner (the Vessel should have been parallel before being brought back alongside the quay), and the re-berthing was therefore also carried out negligently.
The Court further held that, even if there had been no negligence in the re-berthing, the damage would have been caused by the initial negligent mooring of the Vessel and her being blown off the berth.
The Owners’ case of contributory negligence was rejected as it was deemed that no further precaution could have been reasonably taken by the Terminal in the time available. The Terminal was entitled to judgement in the principal sum of EUR 1,546,227.94.