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Under keel clearance & role of port / pilot

It’s not often we see courts looking at the technicalities of calculating under keel clearance (UKC) in great detail. The Arklow Valour [2021] stands out in that regard and also sheds light on just how much onus is on the port / pilot to advise the Master on whether the calculated UKC is sufficient. Here the ship owner was claiming against the port operator for damage sustained by the vessel due to grounding.

The vessel grounded on a sandbar at the mouth of the River Boyne on her outbound voyage. Sandbar was open to weather and predicted tidal depths for this area were affected negatively by bad weather, which was the case on the day of departure. As per owners, cause of grounding was inaccurate estimate of loss of depth (of 0.2m) owing to weather factors by the port / pilot.

The Irish High Court concluded in a lengthy judgement that the impact of the choppy seas on the bow immediately prior to grounding caused her to roll which increased the draught and that led to her touching the sandbar. It decided in favour of the port, simply because owners could not establish that loss of depth was greater than what was estimated by the port or that port's / pilot's (in)actions led to the grounding. It also said that there was no basis to conclude that the port company should have prevented the vessel from sailing and that the port did not fail in its duties under the Occupiers Liability Act'95.

It is difficult to summarise all the points of discussion here wrg to UKC calculations, but the main ones were in relation to:

  • use of admiralty tidal tables vs. local tidal tables (former being more relevant to the location of grounding);

  • not calculating UKC for all legs of the passage;

  • disregarding readings of the automatic tidal gauges in port (which would have showed that predicted tide was way off from actual levels);

  • not giving due importance to the guidance in Admiralty Sailing Directions on loss of depth in this area in bad wx; and

  • Not having a UKC policy in the SMS was not a non-compliance with ISM Code.

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