Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


Sir Nigel Teare *

It is well over 100 years ago that English law provided, by the Maritime Conventions Act 1911, that liability for damage caused by two or more vessels, typically as a result of a collision, was to be apportioned in proportion to the degree in which each vessel was at fault. For some time it was thought that such apportionment was based upon the extent to which the faults of the colliding vessels had caused the collision. But in the mid-1960s it was established that blameworthiness was also relevant. The story has not been told of how it came to be appreciated, over 50 years after apportionment in proportion to fault had been introduced, that apportionment is based upon causative potency and blameworthiness. This article seeks to do so. But how does the Admiralty Court, taking account of causative potency and blameworthiness, apportion liability for damage caused by collision? Is it a simple or a complex exercise? This article seeks to explain how the Admiralty Court apportions liability and to answer that question.


The navigation of ships is governed by the Collision Regulations of 1972,1 an internationally agreed set of rules which are applied, or at any rate ought to be applied, in all the oceans of the world. Navigation is of course assisted by many technological aids to navigation which are designed to avoid the risks of collision. But, despite the Collision Regulations and all the modern aids to navigation, collisions between ships still occur. When they do, substantial damage may be caused which in turn leads to litigation between the owners of the ships involved. Whether or not a ship is adjudged at fault will depend upon whether the ship was navigated in accordance with the Collision Regulations. There will be issues as to lookout, speed and compliance with those rules which apply in certain circumstances, for example, where two vessels are crossing, or where two vessels are navigating in a narrow channel. I am not going to talk about that aspect of collision litigation. It is a large subject. But, if both vessels are found to be at fault and such faults are held to have been causative


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