Specifically, the case concerns the vessels: TIAN E ZUO, ARCTIC BRIDGE and STENA PROVENCE.
What happened was that heavy wind scaused TIAN E ZUO to drag her anchor and to foul the mooring tackle of other nearby ships. The entangled ships dragged downwind as a group and collided before their anchors regained holding and the group became stationary.
In the meantime, ARCTIC BRIDGE, which was moored downwind of the dragging group, attempted to take avoiding action, but made what were held to be a series of errors that led to a collision with TIAN E ZUO and then involuntary towage of that ship by ARCTIC BRIDGE which subsequently led to another collision with STENA PROVENCE.
Moreover, the owners of ARCTIC BRIDGE supported that weren't the dragging of the anchor of TIAN E ZUO, ARCTIC BRIDGE would have never been placed in the position of having to take avoiding action and so would never have suffered a loss.
In the meantime, it was argued that the master of ARCTIC BRIDGE could not be held at fault for decisions taken in ‘the agony of the moment’ even if, by a normal subjective analysis, they would be considered negligent.
Concerning TIAN E ZUO, her lawyers supported that she was anchored.
Having heard all the above, the Court decided that:
- It was incorrect to consider the initial dragging as the sole primary cause. Where there are ‘multiple faults’ that have occurred in a chain of events, with each being capable of being avoided and of independently contributing to a loss, the ‘but for’ test may not be appropriate.
- On the facts it was held that no ‘sudden emergency’ existed at the material time that was caused by the actions of another, or could account for decisions made. TIAN E ZUO was at anchor at the time ARCTIC BRIDGE made contact with her and so she committed no faults during that period. Although events happened quickly, it was found that there was sufficient time available for the bridge team on ARCTIC BRIDGE to assess options and reach correct conclusions. Therefore it would seem that for ‘agony of the moment’ to be an available defence, an emergency must be both caused by the fault of another and so sudden in nature that it leaves the crew with very limited time to consider the situation and take action.
- During the period of involuntary towage, TIAN E ZUO was not held by or under the control of her anchor and so was not an ‘anchored ship’ for the purposes of the collision regulations, and was instead to be considered a ‘ship under way’.
Concluding, the Court's decision reveals some indications as to the Singapore court’s likely approach if a similar situation arises in the future.