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Web Alert: The English courts are again strict on the issue of timebars

04 February 2016

The Court of Appeal has reaffirmed their strict approach to time bars in the recent collision case of STOLT KESTREL c/w NIYAZI S.

Where English law applies, the statutory limitation period provided at section 190(3) Merchant Shipping Act 1995 imposes a two year time bar for the commencement of collision claims, starting from the date of the damage or loss so caused. This period can be extended pursuant to sections 190(5) and (6), which provide that the court can extend the period for bringing proceedings “as it thinks fit” or, if there was no “reasonable opportunity” to arrest the other ship.

Background

On 10 October 2010 a collision occurred between the STOLT KESTRAL and the NIYAZI S at Stanlow, England.

On 9 October 2012, the owner of the STOLT KESTRAL issued an in rem claim form, identifying the defendant as “The Owners and/or Bareboat Charterers of the Vessel ‘Niyazi S’”. The claim form also gave the name and address of Sener Petrol Denizcilik Ticaret AS who, incidentally, were no longer the owners of the ship.

The issue in court was regarding whether the in personam claim form had been brought in time and, if not, whether the statutory exceptions of sections 190(5) and (6) could apply. The claimant argued that they had issued a ‘hybrid’ claim form which included an in personam claim because Sener was named in the claim form.

Judgment

The court considered Admiralty procedure in depth and decided the following:

  • There is no such thing as a hybrid or combined in rem/in personam claim form
  • The fact that the claim in rem may still be pursued against the colliding vessel, now in different ownership, is of no relevance to the failure to issue an in personam claim form against Sener in time
  • Section 190(6) of the MSA 1995 is applicable only to in rem proceedings. In rem claim forms cannot be served out of the jurisdiction, since is it the presence of the res (the ship) within the jurisdiction that renders it amenable to the exercise of that jurisdiction
  • The two-stage test set out in the The Al Tabith [1995] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 336  was the correct test the court should apply under the discretionary exception of section 190(5)

Commentary

The court has again taken a strict approach to procedural error.  See our earlier web alert of 19 May 2015, also on the strict application of time bars by the English courts.

In the context of collision claims, in personam and in rem claim forms are distinct from one another in procedure and in form. Care should always be taken to ensure that claims are properly commenced within the applicable time limits.

This article intends to provide only general guidance on the above issues, arising as a matter of English law. It is not intended to provide legal advice in relation to any specific query. ​In case of any doubt, the member should not hesitate to contact the authors, or their usual club contact. The law is not static and if in any doubt The Standard Club is always on hand to assist.