Update Aug 2002 D

Eurasian Dream highlights court view on seaworthiness

Section: Special Report-Maritime Law
Release Date: Tuesday August 27 2002

Aside from being one of the more colourful judgments this year, the case of the Eurasian Dream has provided plenty of insight into the way the courts view the seaworthiness issue.

The case dates back to 1998, when the Eurasian Dream , a car carrier, caught fire in the port of Sharjah.

Although there was no mandatory requirement for the ship to comply with the International Safety Management Code at the time of the loss, the managers of the vessel did have an ISM system in place, and interesting points were raised over the implementation of the code during the subsequent court case.

The claiman's case was that the Eurasian Dream was unseaworthy and there was a wholesale failure by the ship's technical managers, Univan Ship Management of Hong Kong, to exercise due diligence and that negligence and incompetence on the part of the manager resulted in an incompetent crew and an unseaworthy ship.

The court held that loss and damage to the ship was caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel and that the fire would not have broken out if the master and crew had been properly trained.

Furthermore the court found that the master and crew were ignorant of the hazards of car carriage and the ship had not been provided with specific documentation dealing with the danger of fire on car carriers and that the vessel and that firefighting equipment was deficient.

According to Ian Maclean of Bentleys, Stokes & Lowless: "It is debatable whether the individual deficiencies in isolation would have rendered the vessel unseaworthy. In reaching its conclusion, the court also took into account the special risks presented by car carrier operations."

The court also criticised the number of breathing apparatus sets and walkie talkies, although it acknowledged that the vessel' s equipment complied with Solas regulations.

"Clearly then, there may be circumstances where mere compliance with Solas regulations may be insufficient for the purposes of establishing seaworthiness.

"This suggests that it is incumbent on the manager/owner to perform a risk assessment to determine safety equipment requirements , having regard to the vessel type, nature of the cargo and trade, rather than merely relying on compliance with Solas requirements," he said.

Mr Maclean added that it was the court's comments on the documents supplied to the vessel which would be of greatest interest to those involved in the implementation of the ISM Code.

In spite of the master's lack of experience of car carriers, he had only been provided with a briefing letter telling him to read the manuals onboard the ship.

No information had been provided on the danger of fires on car carriers - the fire was caused when stevedores simultaneously refuelled and jump-started vessels on the car deck.

"Those masters who have been expected to familiarise themselves with a new safety management system on joining a vessel will take comfort that the court found the Eurasian Dream's documentation too voluminous to be digestible and that a manager does not discharge his responsibility by simply instructing the master to read the manuals and instructions onboard," Mr Maclean said.

He added it was likely that in future disputes over seaworthiness the implementation and effectiveness of ISM procedures was likely to come under close scrutiny and the courts had proved they were ready to examine the user friendliness of onboard manuals.

Reproduced by kind persmission of Lloyd's List