The application of the "crossing rule" in rule 15 of the collision regulations

The recent case of Nautical Challenge Ltd v Evergreen Marine (UK) Ltd [2017] EWHC 453 (Admlty, Teare, J.) arose out of a collision between the laden VLCC "ALEXANDRA I" and the laden container vessel "EVER SMART" just outside Jebel Ali in February 2015. The location of the collision was a long dredged channel which it was agreed counted as a "narrow channel" for the purpose of rule 9 of the Collision Regulations.

The majority of the lengthy judgment deals with the facts and culpability of each vessel. In line with the modern approach to collision actions (now reflected in very recent changes to the Admiralty Courts procedure), the parties were able to use Voyage Data Recorder data. The course, heading and speed of the vessels, as well as the helm and engine orders, prior to the collision were agreed before the hearing even commenced. This greatly streamlines the trial process. On the basis of this data and submissions made at trial, his Lordship came to the view that "EVER SMART" should bear 80% of the liability for the collision, with "ALEXANDRA I" bearing 20%.

In line with the modern approach to collision actions (now reflected in very recent changes to the Admiralty Courts procedure), the parties were able to use Voyage Data Recorder data. The course, heading and speed of the vessels, as well as the helm and engine orders, prior to the collision were agreed before the hearing even commenced.

The Judge reviewed existing case law on one particularly important point. Namely, whether rule 15 of the Collision Regulations applies in the vicinity of a narrow channel. That rule (known as the "crossing rule") provides:

When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

In the present case, the "EVER SMART" was navigating within the narrow channel and the "ALEXANDRA I" was approaching the entrance to the channel with a view to embarking a pilot and then entering it. The navigation of the latter vessel was not in accordance with rule 15, but it was in accordance with the rules applicable to narrow channels in rule 9.

Mr Justice Teare held that rule 15 did not apply. Safety required a vessel approaching the channel, in order to proceed along it, to navigate so that if the vessels pass in the channel they will pass to port. In the present case, rule 9 required "ALEXANDRA I" not to keep out of the way of "EVER SMART" but to navigate in such a manner that, when she reached the channel, she would be on the starboard side of it.

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