Hosting one of the world’s largest ports, Dubai has rapidly expanded to become a leading maritime hub. As an expected consequence of the growth of Dubai’s maritime industry, the number of marine accidents has steadily increased over the past few years, as Dubai Port police have reported that there were 53 maritime accidents in 2013, 37 accidents in 2012, and 34 accidents in 2011. According to Marasi News, 9 of the 37 accidents that had taken place in 2013 were collisions.
Collisions cause a variety of adverse consequences, ranging from fires and explosions to loss of cargo and damage to the vessel, marine pollution, and death or injury sustained by individuals such as members of the crew. In the most extreme cases, the aforementioned effects may be coupled in the vessel sinking. Depending on the severity of the effects, damages for collisions may cost those who are liable millions in losses. The major area of concern during a collision is the allocation of liabilities amongst the parties implicated.
The purpose of this article is to address the legal issues surrounding fault and liability that arises from a maritime collision that occurs within UAE territory by applying the applicable legislation, the UAE Maritime Code of 1981(Maritime Code).
Definition of a collision under Maritime Law
UAE Maritime law defines a collision an accidents that occur between vessels, regardless of whether physical contact has occurred; the UAE law allows victims to recover from tortfeasors even if no physical contact has occurred where damage by an act or failure to act or violation of navigation rules is caused to another vessel, the goods or persons aboard the vessel (Article 318/2 of Maritime Code). In case a collision occurs, persons or cargo aboard a ship or an innocent third party involved in the collision may recover for damages and losses suffered. However, the physical contact between ship and structures, such as a bridge or dock, is not a collision, and in fact constitutes tortious liability.
Determining liability of a vessel
Like many other jurisdictions, a collision occurs due to either a fault of a vessel, force majeure, or unidentified cause. Determining the allocation of liability is determined by assessing which party is at fault. If a Court determines one vessel is at fault for the collision, the owner of the vessel will be held liable for paying damages to successful claimant(s) (Art. 320 of Maritime Code). The UAE Maritime Law code provides for joint and several liability for collisions where more than one vessel is at fault. If a Court finds both vessels jointly at fault, then the Court will accord liability to ships in proportion to the amount of blame of each vessel. (Art. 321 of the Maritime Code). Incidents may arise where Courts are faced with the difficulty of determining the percentage of fault of the vessels, such as when evidence is vague and does not permit the court to determine who is at greater fault. In this case, the courts will find all vessels involved in the collision equally at fault.
Force majeure is the commonly used legal principal to describe an unknown cause or an irresistible force outside of the control of either party which causes a tort. Under maritime law, examples of force majeure include forces of nature, such as a hurricane or flood, which leads to a collision between vessels. In case of a force majeure, the UAE Maritime Code explicitly exempts each party from liability to the other. (Article 319 of Maritime Code) Instead, a vessel shall only be responsible for its own losses.
As it is mentioned above, the ship-owner of a vessel that is found at fault for the collision shall be liable for paying damages to the victims of the collisions.
In dividing damages when more than one vessel has determined to be liable in a collision, , Article 321 of the UAE Maritime Code provides that damages will be determined and divided in proportion to the fault of more than one vessel. In effect, each vessel shall only remain liable for damages in in proportion to the percentage of the fault. Furthermore, the UAE recognizes joint and several liability, which allows a victim to recover the totality of their damages from one of the defendants. (Article 321/3 of the Maritime Code). Joint and several liability is limited, as vessels will only be jointly and severally liable for death or personal injury. if the damages relate to death or personal injury. Under UAE law, a charterer may also be required to indemnify the ship-owner for any claims for damages in a collision caused by the ship to third parties. (Art. 255of Maritime Code)