Note: the decision in this case has been upheld by the Singapore Court of Appeal, which held that the owners of The "Seaway" could limit their liability under both limbs of Section 136(1)(d) of the Singapore Merchant Shipping Act. For the case note on the Appeal Court's decision, click here
The "Seaway" collided with and damaged a wharf belonging to Shell Eastern Petroleum. Shell sued for negligence. The owners of the "Seaway" argued that they were entitled to tonnage limitation under section 136(1)(d) of the Merchant Shipping Act. Section 136(d) would apply if (1) the wharf was "property" within the meaning of that sub-section; or (2) Shell’s rights were infringed through the act or omission of any person in the navigation or management of the "Seaway". The court held that the wharf was not "property" under section 136(d), but concluded that the claim was an infringement of rights within the ambit of that sub-section.
DMC Rating Category: Developed
This Case Note was contributed by Ang & Partners, the Website’s International Contributors for Singapore
The Court was asked to address a preliminary point of statutory interpretation, as to whether the claim fell within the ambit of section 136(1)(d) of the Act as a claim for (1) loss or damage caused to any property (other than goods, merchandise or other things on board the ship, which comes under paragraph(b)); or (2) infringement of Shell’s rights through the act or omission of any person in the navigation or management of the "Seaway".
2. The judge noted that prior to 1981, shipowners were entitled to limit their liability for damage to harbour works under section 295(4) of the Merchant Shipping Act. In 1981, s.295(4) was deleted in its entirety. The judge rejected the Defendants’ argument that "harbour works" in s.295(4) applied only to publicly owned shore installations, whereas privately owned shore installations came within the meaning of s.295(1)(d) (now s.136(1)(d)). No distinction was made in Article 1(c) of the 1957 Convention and the repealed s.295(4) between private and public harbour works. It would defeat the manifest intention of Parliament to read s.136(1)(d) in isolation or in a vacuum, without regard to the amendments to s.295 in 1981. Therefore, since Parliament deleted s.295(4) in 1981, damage to harbour works, which included privately owned wharves, was excluded from limitation for liability.
3. On the other hand, the alternative limb in s.136(1)(d), where "any right is infringed through the act or omission of any person …" also covered the claim. The right was that of Shell not to have their property damaged. If that right was infringed, for example, when a ship contacted their jetty, thereby damaging it, Shell had a common law right to claim damages, and the corollary was that under s.136(1)(d), a shipowner could limit his liability when that right was infringed. The fact that the Defendants had not pleaded this ground was of no consequence as the Court was dealing with a preliminary issue. If, in respect of the same loss, the Defendants could bring themselves within the ambit of the other limb in s.136(1)(d), they ought to be allowed to do so.
These Case Notes have been prepared with care, but neither the Editor nor the International and other Contributors can guarantee that they are free from error, nor that they contain every pertinent point. Reliance should not therefore be placed upon them without independent verification. The Editor and the International and other Contributors disclaim all liability for any loss of whatsoever nature and howsoever arising as a result of others acting or refraining from acting in reliance on the contents of this website and the information to which it gives access. The Editor claims copyright in the content of the website.