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Master & Pilot - apportioning blame for damaged SPM pipeline

There has always existed inherent tension in the relationship of responsibility between a ship master and pilot. Usually shipowners are held liable for damage caused by pilot’s negligence. In PetroSA vs. O.Asia III (shipowner) and Transnet (pilot’s employer) [2021], SPM pipeline carrying oil was damaged after the anchor had become snagged on it. How was the blame apportioned?

As per reports damage occurred either during the unmooring process when the crew tried heaving the snagged anchor. Cause of snagging was it had been let go too early under pilot’s instructions during vessel’s approach to CBM as the marker boat was out of position (both were employees of Transnet). As per the shipowner, it was Transnet’s negligence that caused it. Transnet on the other hand argued that Master was negligent as he failed to follow port’s SOP and/or the bridge crew did not intervene when required.

As per the court, ship's crew should have been aware of the position of ship's bow relative to the pipeline when anchor was dropped. At the same time, errors of the pilot and the marker boat were said to be inexplicable. The actions of both - the ship’s crew, and the pilot & marker boat contributed to the snagging of the anchor. The owners were found 20% liable whereas Transnet 80%.

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