Taking on water

A UK based naval architect was appointed by a shipyard in the USA to design a vessel, of which more than one was due to be built.

One of the vessels suffered an incident in bad weather. The vessel took on water and eventually sank. It was recovered and repaired by the yard. The repairs cost US$ 150,000. The yard then tried to recover these costs from the naval architect, alleging that they had not been advised of the down flooding points and that was why the vessel took on water. The claim was rejected.

As is usual, the vessel was designed with various openings in the hull. These openings could be used for many reasons, for example, plumbing pipes or exhaust pipes. The naval architect would not know which was the down flooding point until after the yard had built the vessel and attached the relevant piping. The contract called for the naval architect to provide a drawing showing the down flooding points on an “as built” basis. This meant this could not have been undertaken until after the vessel had been built. The naval architect had not been asked to view the vessel after it was built for the purpose of providing this “as built” drawing.

The incident was caused when the pipe attached to one of the hull openings came away at the fastening because the yard had used a very weak material. Their argument was that if they had known this opening was a critical flooding point, they would have made the fastening much stronger.

The response to this argument was (a) the naval architect would not have known what material the yard would use until they had already built the vessel (b) the naval architect would not know which pipes were where and how they had been connected until after the vessel was built and finally(c) there were ISO rules in place that governed such fastenings, and this particular fastening was in breach of those rules.

The yard threatened to commence proceedings in the USA. However, ITIC believed that English law and jurisdiction should apply. In order to avoid proceedings, which would have included a dispute over jurisdiction, taking into account that there was a small litigation risk and that costs are unrecoverable in the USA, the matter was settled by ITIC on a costs of defence basis for US $40,000.

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