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Collision, set-off and time bar

In ship collision cases, single liability principle is understood as being a form of set off because of the way calculations are done in deciding who pays whom and how much. In The Grand Ace 12 [2021], the action of one of the two owners was time barred. Does that mean this owner looses the advantage of the set off?

As example, if owner A’s loss was $4m & owner B’s loss is $2m, with both vessels being 50% to blame for the collision; then the net result is that B will have to pay only $1m to A after applying the set off ($3m - $2m) under the single liability principle. B naturally would want the set off to apply to reduce the amount that it is liable for. In this case, A contended that B is liable for $3m and not for the reduced amount since B’s claim against A was time barred (cause in rem writ of B's owner was never served to ship A).

The Singapore court said that the principle might in most cases have the same practical effect as applying set-off, but it is in reality very different (a divergent approach from UK law). It is a procedural mechanism having its root in antiquity. It pre-supposes that the claim the owners of each vessel have against the other is not time barred. Here, B’s claim was time barred and therefore it cannot take advantage of the set off.

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