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Vessels Restricted in Ability to Manoeuvre (RAM)

A vessel that is ‘restricted in her ability to maneuver’ (RAM) enjoys certain privileges, for eg. those mentioned in Rule 18 of COLREGS. Rule 3 of COLREGS defines what a RAM vessel is and then lists out six examples. The list is however NOT exhaustive. Can the definition of RAM extend to a vessel heaving up its anchors? Question arose recently in The Strandja [2021].

Kieffer Bailey was proceeding down the Mississippi River when she collided with Strandja. At the time Strandja was riding on her starboard anchor and naturally swinging around it as port anchor had just been heaved up. Strandja’s owners contended that when a vessel is at anchor her maneuverability is very restrained. Infact they got a pilot to support their interpretation of collision regulations. As such, Rule 18 (responsibilities of vessels) required Kieffer Bailey to keep clear of Strandja. Kieffer Bailey’s owners on the other hand said that Strandja did not meet the `nature of her work' requirement of the rule because she was not engaged in any ‘work’.

The Court examined Rule 3(g) and said that types of work specified in the rule involve highly specific and non-standard activities. Unlike the specific examples in Rule 3(g), heaving anchors is a typical, ordinary, regular activity for a vessel. Had the drafters intended to include such a highly ordinary activity of heaving anchors in the "nature of her work" requirement, then they would have done so. Vessels at anchor or heaving up their anchors are not RAM. It also pointed out that Courts will generally be reluctant to indulge in judicial innovation of COLREGS.

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