The basic understanding

What Happened ?

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Admiralty Judge in ‘The CMA CGM LIBRA’ in that a defective Passage Plan can render a vessel unseaworthy notwithstanding that the defect stemmed from navigational decisions. Any such error is attributable to the carrier or owner and constitutes a failure by the carrier or owner to exercise ‘due diligence’ before and at the commencement of the voyage to make the vessel seaworthy under the Hague/Hague-VisbyRules.

Food For Thought

Seaworthiness is not only a relative concept but an evolving one too which changes not only with the time of the year but over a period of time.

In McFadden v Blue Star Line(1) where seaworthiness of a vessel was defined as a vessel that “must have a degree of fitness which an ordinary, careful and prudent owner would require his vessel to have at the commencement of her voyage, having regard to all the probable circumstances of it”

  • Whether a vessel is unseaworthy or not will depend always not only on the standards prevailing at that time but also on the circumstances surrounding the voyage.
  • The continuous advancement in shipbuilding, engine advancement, drastic betterment in navigational equipment’s being used on navigational bridge all will have effect on seaworthiness over a period of time.

However, the are some general conditions on which the vessels have been held to be unseaworthy which in turn shows that it is an all-encompassing concept.

  • The physical condition of the vessel should be able to withstand the ordinary perils of the sea. Consequently, vessels have been deemed unseaworthy for defects in fire-fighting system (2), leaking hull which effect the watertight integrity of vessel (3) , engineering defects(4) and defective anchors.(5)
  • Vessels have been deemed unseaworthy for not having adequate number of walkie-talkies.(6)
  • The incompetence of crew and presence of them in inadequate number has also resulted in the vessel being unseaworthy.(7)

Here there must a distinction must be drawn that which is ossified in the case law also is that there is a difference between incompetence and negligence.

  • Negligence means master and crew have the basic level of skills and knowledge required for their rank but could not deliver in the heat of the moment due to variety of reasons.
  • Incompetence means non-possession of those skills required for that rank. The vessel will be unseaworthy in case of incompetence only.