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Harbour Bridge and Panamanian company in Court battle over recent collision

The Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) has filed a more than $1 billion lawsuit against the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker, which had crashed into the bridge in October, rending it inoperable for about three days.

But Canama Trading, which owns the vessel – MT Tradewind Passion - is contesting the figure the Corporation is claiming.

In a Statement of Claim (SoC) filed by Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin, the Harbour Bridge Corporation is seeking $50 million in general damages for negligence on the Panamanian company’s part.

The Corporation also asks for $1 billion for special damages and interest under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act.

In the SoC, the DHBC said that on October 8, 2022, at around 1:00h, during a scheduled retraction, the vessel collided with the 44-year-old Bridge causing damages so far assessed at $1 billion. This is not the final figure, the Corporation noted.

“The Master was negligent by not exercising the relevant international safety conventions for safety at sea and applying the applicable speed necessary in the prevailing circumstances,” the Bridge advanced.

Zooming in on the negligence, the DHBC said the Master failed to sail the vessel at a safe speed, reported difficulties being encountered upon approaching the bridge, and using reasonable care and skill in veering from the structure.

“Despite several oral requests by the Claimant (DHBC) demanding payment of the money for the damage caused by the defendant (Canama Trading), the defendant has failed, neglected, or refused to pay the said sum of $1 billion, which is still due, owing and payable.”

In a counterclaim filed against the DHBC and the Maritime Administration Department, Canama Trading, through Attorney-at-Law Kamal Ramkarran, asked the Court to declare that its vessel was unlawfully detained.

In fact, the Panamanian company held that under Section 401 of the Guyana Shipping Act, a shipowner may limit its liability and that Act Section 402 (1) provides limit liability regardless of the basis of liability.

This includes “loss of or damage to property, including damage to harbour works, basins and waterways, and aids to navigation, occurring on board or in direct connection with the operation of the ship and consequential loss resulting therefrom.”

As a result, Canama Trading contended that the Harbour Bridge claims are subject to limitation, regardless of the basis of liability.

The company advanced that Section 405 provides that a person liable is barred from limiting liability only where it can be proved that the loss resulted from his “personal act or omission committed with the intent to cause such loss, or recklessly and with knowledge that such loss would probably result.”

According to Canama Trading, the Court’s only concern should be with the personal actions and knowledge of the shipowner and not that of his servants or agents.

Against this background, it must be shown that the shipowner personally acted with the foresight of the particular damage occurring.

“Neither the master of the vessel nor any of the crew on board the vessel at the time of the incident hold any office [within Canama Trading,” the company noted.

The Panamanian company noted that Section 407 (b) (i) provides that the limit of liability for claims other than those for loss of life or personal injury shall be 167,000 Units of Account for a ship with a tonnage not exceeding 500 tons and for each ton from 501 to 30,000 tons 167 Units of Account.

It was noted that the gross registered tonnage of the vessel is 5001 tons, with the current value of a Unit of Account as defined in the Act as $266,63.

As such, the company said it is entitled and claims to limit its liability to $918,667 × $266,63, equivalent to $244,944,006.21 plus interest from October 8 to the date of constitution of the fund.

As no interest rate is specified in the Act, Canama Trading said the applicable rate should be 4% per annum under Section 12 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous) Provision Act, Cap 6:2.

As a result, the calculated interest falling due on the date of its application is $134,215.89.


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