This course is concerned with providing an overview and understanding of the legal issues which arise following incidents which occur on ships (or between ships) when at sea or approaching port. It is intended to complement the menu of maritime law courses (such as Admiralty Law & Practice, Carriage of Goods by Sea, Charterparties, Domestic & International Sale of Goods, Multimodal Transport Law, International & Comparative Oil & Gas Law, Maritime Conflict of Laws, and Law of Marine Insurance) offered by the Faculty in AY2018-2019. No aspiring maritime (or shipping) lawyer can claim any authority in the field without some knowledge of the law relating to maritime casualties. Although less prominent in Singapore than claims relating to cargoes and their recovery and arrests of ships, one cannot be a complete maritime lawyer without some knowledge of the “bread and butter” topics covered in this elective. The legal issues arising are often labelled as “wet” (as opposed to “dry”) by those maritime practitioners who undertake this work, some of whom are specialists with seagoing experience, and work exclusively in the field.
We start with the coming into existence of the ship and the factors which determine the decision to own and trade a ship. We will look at factors which might determine the choice to “flag” the ship with a particular flag registry, the various ownership structures which might be selected, and the business of ship sale and purchase, both second-hand tonnage and newbuilds.
Having secured registration and left port, we consider the legal consequences which follow after a collision between two ships (or between a ship and another object), always a risk at sea, particularly in congested waterways, such as the Singapore Strait or the English Channel. The relevant law involves the application of principles of tort law, overlaid with the Collision Regulations, the primary international rules regulating the navigation of ships at sea.
One of the major effects of a collision at sea is oil pollution, whether from crude oil (from oil tankers) or bunker oil (from any ship). These effects came to public prominence following the grounding of the Torrey Canyon in 1967 and the later stranding of the Amoco Cadiz in 1978, both of which saw oil pollution on a large scale. This met with a concerted international response, now found in a series of interlocking international conventions, imposing liability (the CLC 1992 and the Bunkers Convention) and providing additional compensation to the victims of pollution damage in cases where compensation under the CLC was either inadequate or unobtainable (the Fund Convention 1992 and the Supplementary Fund 2003) or not covered (the Bunkers Convention). We shall consider the private law impact of all these responses.
We then move to the law of salvage (and also, very briefly, wreck). Salvage law is an ancient body of law which gives financial compensation for the services proffered by professional salvors who have preserved or contributed to the preservation at sea of any vessel, cargo, freight, or other recognised subject of salvage, from danger. Modern salvage law agreements were, until rather recently, typically embodied in a well-known contract, Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF 2011), and this together with the Salvage Convention 1989, forms an integral part of our enquiry.
Following a collision, rescue from danger (earning salvage) may not be required; an injured ship may be towed, pursuant to a towage contract and at a fixed remuneration, to a nearby port. We shall refer briefly to the UK Standard Conditions (which typically apply to towage in ports and harbours, but are also occasionally for offshore work and which, despite the name, are widely used outside the UK) but our main focus will be the Towcon and Towhire contracts (typically for ocean towage work).
Ships calling at or near ports are frequently subject to compulsory pilotage. This requirement to take on board a pilot, usually a master mariner with particular experience and knowledge of particular passages at sea or approaches to harbours, is of ancient origin, and is required in Singapore and in many ports worldwide.
The law of general average (GA) is an ancient concept by which the parties in a sea venture proportionally share any losses resulting from a voluntary sacrifice of part of the ship or cargo to save the whole in an emergency. Today embodied in the York-Antwerp Rules, GA is closely associated with marine insurance because insurance policies on hull, cargo, and freight all provide that insurers will pay the contribution due from the assured but is often considered in the context of maritime casualties.
The final part of the course is concerned with a matter of considerable practical importance underpinning recovery in maritime law, limitation of liability. Our focus will be the international scheme for capping the exposure of shipowners (and others) following a maritime incident. This has been regulated by international convention since 1924; our main concern will be the Convention of 1976 and its 1996 Protocol (the LLMC), though we shall also consider some of the essential elements of the earlier 1957 scheme, which still applies in some parts of the world.
 Cf., however, The Dream Star  SGHC 220;  2 Lloyd’s Rep 538; The Tian E Zou  SGHC 93;  2 Lloyd’s Rep 297.