James Watthey, instructed by Hill Dickinson LLP, successfully defended a claim in the Admiralty Court against the owners of Mashfords Shipyard after a 3 day trial before Mrs Justice Gloster.
The owner of a massively constructed wooden 22 metre Scottish drifter built in 1958 wanted to lay her in a tidal berth at Mashfords yard so he could pressure wash the hull and apply antifouling at low tide. The layerage had a sharply sloping beach at the landward end, so Mashfords’ staff explained that the vessel must be placed carefully in the berth to avoid her bow resting on the beach at low water, which would leave a large expanse of the keel unsupported. The owner did not listen to the warnings and the vessel suffered serious damage when she took the ground.
The point of law in issue was the duty of care owed by wharfingers. Gloster J found that the yard was not an occupier of the tidal foreshore so no duties could arise under the Occupiers Liability Acts; nor could there an implied warranty of safety. Rather, the wharfinger’s duty was merely to check the layerage bed was safe or give warnings to the extent that it was not. Even though the wharfinger did own and control the quay walls and “thus, in effect, the mooring”, the yard’s duty of care did not become any more onerous.
Therefore, Mashfords’ staff had to show that they had given a warning to move the vessel to a position where she would have lain clear of the sloping beach, a matter which the claimant vigorously denied. Gloster J preferred the evidence of the experienced staff at the yard and duly dismissed the claim.
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