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CHAPTER 12 Towage and limitation of liability

Law of Tug and Tow and Offshore Contracts

Page 541


Towage and limitation of liability

Part A. Limiting Liability: General Principles

Historical background

A question of policy

12.1 The right in English law of a shipowner to limit his liability to a fixed sum calculated by reference to the tonnage of his vessel in the event of loss or damage caused to others by his vessel or his crew, rather than by his personal fault or omission, is of considerable antiquity (the first statute of limitation of liability was in 1734, 7 Geo. 2, c. 15). The right is a creature of statute and, although it may appear to work injustice in certain cases, it is well-settled as a matter of public policy and is (arguably) defensible upon these grounds As Lord Denning MR summarised the position in The Bramley Moore [1964] P 200 at p. 220: “but limitation of liability is not a matter of justice. It is a rule of public policy which has its origin in history and its justification in convenience.”

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