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Passing vessel blamed 100% for collision caused in locks by the suction effect of the water

Wash damage can cause vessels to break from their moorings, but how about damage caused by the suction effect during low water created by the water displacement in the locks by a passing vessel? Are Masters supposed to be aware of such a localised phenomenon and can they be held responsible for the damage to other ships, especially when there is no maximum speed prescribed by the port authorities? The Dutch Appeals Court has replied ‘yes’ in The MSC Giselle [2023].

MSC Giselle passed the Hansweert Locks at over 16 knots, creating a sudden rush of water into the lock chamber through the funnel shaped approach to the locks. As a result, two vessels moored in the locks collided with each other. MSC Giselle’s owners argued that their speed was safe, the Master wasn't aware of the other two vessels as they had not reported their posn on the VHF channel used by vessels in the river, the Master did not know the lock gate was open, and the Master could not have known about the local suction effect and that low water would exacerbate it.

As per the Court, although there is no prescribed maximum safe speed for this area, the local pilots (and hence also the Capt.) were aware of such a phenomenon which affects only large vessels (her dwt was > 100,000 t) in the Scheldt river and they should have instructed the vessel to slow down well in time. As for the other two vessels not reporting their posn on the VHF and the lock gates being open, the Court said that the Master of MSC Giselle should have borne in mind that inland vessels may be in/near such busy locks and that the gates may be open. For these reasons, it was held that MSC Giselle had not acted in accordance with good seamanship and was 100% blamed for the damage caused.

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