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Safety Management Systems scrutinized by courts in two separate cases on navigational incidents

It is not often that Safety Management System of a shipping company is scrutinized by court. Surprisingly there have been two cases in quick succession in the past few months - one in US & other in UK.

First case (US) - The Athos I

A tanker’s hull was punctured after striking an abandoned anchor (whose flukes were pointing upwards) resulting in oil spillage in the Delaware river. Passage planning and UKC guidelines were questioned. Court referred to domestic rules (33 CFR. § 157.455) to decide whether its requirements were satisfied by the owner’s SMS. They were.

Second case (UK) - The Jia Li Hai

A collision occurred and cargo interests refused GA contribution and alleged unseaworthiness; and that SMS was inadequate & too lengthy/complex such that they can’t be followed, and there was improper auditing. They did not however seek/have any documentation to prove the allegations. They placed reliance on China MSA’s report on the collision as it casted doubt on owner’s SMS procedures as well. In the court's view it did not follow from this fact that the owner had inadequate systems in place. Owners had the ISM DOC/SMC and also presented some extracts from the SMS procedures. About SMS manuals being voluminous and complex, the court declined to draw any such inference. Any easy day for the owners at the end.

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