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UK Case law: Evergreen Marine (UK) Limited (Appellant) v Nautical Challenge Ltd (Respondent)  UKSC 6 On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 2173
News & Insights 23 March 2021
Key words: Collision/COLREGS
The Crossing and Narrow Channel Rules
In February 2015, the appellant’s vessel Ever Smart collided with the respondent’s vessel Alexandra 1 just outside the dredged channel by which vessels enter and exit the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. Alexandra 1 was inbound; Ever Smart was outbound. The damage suffered by thee vessels was USD 9.3 million and USD 2.5 million respectively.
The Admiralty Court determined that the Ever Smart should bear 80% of the liability for the collision and the Alexandra 1should bear 20%. The judge held that the ‘crossing rules’ (Rules 15-17 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, as amended 'the Collision Regulations') did not apply and therefore that Alexandra 1 did not navigate in breach of Rule 16. This was, the crossing rule which was said by the appellant to have applied to the Alexandra 1. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The appellant subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issues before the Supreme Court were:
(a) The proper construction of the Collision Regulations). In particular, whether the crossing rules are inapplicable, or whether they should be disapplied where an outbound vessel is navigating within a narrow channel and has a vessel off its bow on a crossing course while approaching the channel with the intention of, and in preparation for, entering it.
(b) On the proper construction of the Collision Regulations, in determining whether the crossing rules are applicable, whether there is a requirement for the putative give-way vessel to be on a steady course before the crossing rules can be engaged.
The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal and emphasised that the Collision Regulations must be interpreted in a practical, uniform manner to provide clear navigational rules for all mariners and for all vessels.
In considering the second issue, the court found that there was no ‘steady course’ requirement, as long as the give-way vessel was on a sufficiently steady bearing (the Alexandra 1 in this case, albeit she was on an erratic course and speed) from the stand-on vessel. Although not required to consider the matter, the court also commented that the same principles apply to the course of the stand-on vessel.
In relation to the first issue, the court found that where an outbound vessel in a narrow channel is crossing with an approaching vessel so as to involve a risk of collision, such as in this case, the crossing rules are not overridden by the narrow channel rules merely because the approaching vessel is intending and preparing to enter the narrow channel. The crossing rules are only overridden if the approaching vessel is shaping to enter, adjusting her course so as to reach the entrance on her starboard side of it, on her final approach.
Therefore, the crossing rules applied and Alexandra 1, as the give-way vessel, was obliged to take early and substantial action to keep well clear of Ever Smart. As a result, the Admiralty Court will need to redetermine the apportionment of liability between the two parties.