The "Tian E Zuo"

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean J
Judgment Date20 April 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] SGHC 93
Citation[2018] SGHC 93
Defendant CounselLoo Dip Seng and Tan Siew Chi (Ang & Partners)
Published date17 July 2019
Docket NumberAdmiralty in Rem No 113 of 2014
Plaintiff CounselChew Sui Gek Magdalene, Lee Soo Pin Victoria and Wong Teck Ming (AsiaLegal LLC)
Subject MatterAdmiralty and shipping,Regulations,Collision
Hearing Date06 July 2017,12 July 2017,17 May 2017,19 May 2017,24 May 2017,23 May 2017,07 July 2017,16 May 2017,18 May 2017,27 October 2017
Belinda Ang Saw Ean J: Introduction

This action arose out of two related collisions on 12 June 2014: (a) the plaintiffs’ vessel, the Arctic Bridge of the port of Malta and the Stena Provence of the port of Bermuda; and (b) the defendant’s vessel, the Tian E Zuo of the port of Hong Kong and the Stena Provence. As a result of the related collisions, the three named vessels sustained hull damage to varying extent. The plaintiffs and the defendant settled with the Stena Provence having accepted between themselves that the Stena Provence, a vessel at anchor, was not at fault at all for the related collisions. In the settlement, both the plaintiffs and the defendant assumed equal responsibility for the damage sustained by the Stena Provence. Notably, the settlement was without prejudice to the parties’ right to be indemnified by the other in respect of the claims by the Stena Provence. In this action, the plaintiffs contend that the defendant is wholly to blame for the related collisions whereas the defendant by counterclaim argues that the plaintiffs are responsible for the related collisions and must bear 100% blame.

The series of events culminating in the related collisions that occurred in Singapore waters, in the Western Petroleum Anchorage B, may be described as most unusual. The detailed facts will be narrated in due course. It suffices to say for now that, factually, the Arctic Bridge was a vessel underway when her port anchor or anchor chain entangled the port anchor or anchor chain of the Tian E Zuo, which was a vessel at anchor. The entanglement started an involuntary towage of the Tian E Zuo that culminated in the related collisions. The defendant contends that the involuntary towage effectively propelled the Tian E Zuo into contacting the Stena Provence twice. This judgment will discuss whether there were serious faults in respect of each vessel. In terms of causative potency and blameworthiness, is one party wholly to blame or is one party by far the most at fault. The plaintiffs’ case is founded on the negligence of the Tian E Zuo in permitting the vessel to drag her anchor initially and that the earlier anchor drag triggered a chain of events that culminated (about one hour 20 minutes later) in the Arctic Bridge’s involvement in the related collisions. The plaintiffs’ reliance on the “but for” test focuses on earlier events and that test will be examined in the light of their argument that there was no break in the chain of events, seeing that the Arctic Bridge was forced to move away from her safely anchored position and had to dredge her port anchor because of the Tian E Zuo. If the court finds that there were faults on the part of the Arctic Bridge, the plaintiffs will rely on the defence of agony of the moment. Whether it applies to the two occasions identified by the plaintiffs’ expert witness will be examined. If the court, on the evidence, is unable to determine the extent of the parties’ blameworthiness, then liability would be apportioned equally under section 1(1) of the Maritime Conventions Act 1911, (Cap IA3, 2004 Rev Ed) (“Maritime Conventions Act”).

All time references in this judgment are to Singapore local time (UTC +8). I note that the time points used in the various sources for the occurrence of certain events appear to differ between the parties. However, nothing turns on the differences since the exact timing of the occurrences are immaterial to the outcome of this action.

Background facts leading to the dispute The vessels and her crew

As stated, the related collisions involved first the Stena Provence and the Tian E Zuo, and second the Stena Provence and the Arctic Bridge. Prior to the related collisions, there was an earlier collision that involved the Tian E Zuo, the Marine Liberty and the DL Navig8. This earlier collision is not placed before this court as an issue for determination in the present case. The Marine Liberty is a bunker barge that was supplying bunkers to the Tian E Zuo at the material time. The Marine Liberty was still securely moored to the Tian E Zuo when the latter’s anchor dragged in the prevailing squall. The two vessels drifted into close proximity with the DL Navig8, an oil tanker with a gross tonnage of 30,964 tonnes, breadth of 32.23 metres and an overall length of 189 metres. At 0308 hours the Marine Liberty collided with the DL Navig8. Subsequently, at about 0314 hours, the Tian E Zuo collided with the DL Navig8. As a result, these three vessels became hampered by the presence of each other in a way that prevented them from unilaterally manoeuvring to clear and break free. This predicament was the state of affairs that existed from 0330 hours until sometime between 0402 and 0406 hours. The Marine Liberty was freed at about 0402 hours. It is not clear precisely when the DL Navig8 could safely move away from the Tian E Zuo. It could have been any time from 0402 hours to 0406 hours.

The Arctic Bridge is a Korean built chemical/oil tanker, constructed in 2005. She has a gross tonnage of 30,053 tonnes, a breadth of 32.2 metres, and an overall length of 183 metres. She is also equipped with a bow thruster of power 950 kW. She was partly loaded with 19,543 tonnes of gasoline at the material time. Two members of her crew testified at the trial. They are: the master of the Arctic Bridge, Captain Erik Khuzhin (“Captain Khuzhin”), and the chief officer, Alexander Ignatyuk.

The Tian E Zuo is a newer and larger Chinese built chemical/oil tanker. She was constructed in 2012, has a gross tonnage of 43,718 tonnes, breadth of 32.26 metres, and an overall length of 228.6 metres. She was loaded with 56,114.984 tonnes of naphtha at the material time. Four members of her crew testified at the trial. They are: (a) the master of the Tian E Zuo, Captain Zou Zhizi (“Captain Zou”), (b) Wu Binggao who was the chief officer, (c) Liu Bo the second officer, and (d) Zhang Guangyan (“Zhang”), an able-bodied seaman.

Relative position of the vessels prior to 0247 hours

All the vessels mentioned earlier were in the Western Petroleum B Anchorage at the time the Tian E Zuo dragged her anchor. The movement of vessels in the anchorage falls under the oversight of West Control of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (“West Control”). It is not disputed that the anchorage was congested at the material time. The Tian E Zuo was anchored by a single port anchor, six shackles deep. She had a north-westerly heading. The Marine Liberty was made fast to her starboard side. To the north of the Tian E Zuo was the anchored vessel, the Kingfisher, to the east was the DL Navig8 and slightly further out north-east was the Arctic Bridge.

The plot in Annex 1 depicts the relative locations of the six vessels (including the Kingfisher and the Stena Provence) on 12 June 2014 at 0239 hours.1 This plot was produced by the defendant’s expert, Mr Hakirat Singh s/o Harnek Singh (“Mr Singh”), using Automatic Identification System (“AIS”) data. For context, an AIS is a device that transmits information regarding a ship’s position to a network to allow maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements. I have also included other plots (also from Mr Singh’s report) illustrating the position of the vessels at different time periods in this judgment as a graphical reference. These other plots were drawn up with information from the Voyage Data Recorders on board the Arctic Bridge, the Tian E Zuo and the Stena Provence.2 These Voyage Data Recorders store, in a secure and retrievable form, information regarding the movement and control of a ship over the period leading up to and following an incident (“VDR”). While these plots are useful, I am mindful of what I have said in The “Dream Star” [2018] 4 SLR 473 at [13] (“The Dream Star”); that they show what might have happened, not what did happen. The same comments equally apply to the defendant’s video which is supposedly a video replay compilation using extracted VDR data from the VDRs of the Arctic Bridge and the Tian E Zuo. I will elaborate on this video below.

Weather and tide conditions

At 0245 hours, in the light of a developing squall, West Control broadcasted a warning to all ships announcing that “the area [was] experiencing strong winds [, and advised] all vessels … to keep a good anchor watch”.3 Both experts agreed that the sea was slight to rough after the onset of the squall.

According to the defendant’s Preliminary Act, the squall lasted from 0245 hours to 0320 hours. While there was a squall, visibility was moderate. Those on board the Arctic Bridge and the Tian E Zuo were able to visually see each other for the most part of the entire incident. While Captain Khuzhin claimed that visibility was reduced to a mile, he could nonetheless visually observe that the stern of the Tian E Zuo had collided with the bow of the DL Navig8 and that both vessels were dragging astern together. He also was able to see that at about 0330 hours, the Tian E Zuo had stopped dragging astern with the DL Navig8 but the Tian E Zuo’s bow started to turn starboard towards the Arctic Bridge. Captain Khuzhin estimated the distance between his vessel and the Tian E Zuo to be about 70 metres. However, Mr Singh has calculated the distance to be 95 metres based on VDR data.

Both experts agreed that the tidal steam direction was towards 119° true with a rate ranging 1.25 knots to 1.62 knots between 0245 hours and 0430 hours. While there was initially some dispute over the prevailing wind direction at the material time, I have accepted the prevailing wind direction to be, generally, westerly to south-westerly after 0246 hours. This was the direction stated by the experts in their joint statement.

As stated, the Tian E Zuo dragged her anchor in the early morning of 12 June 2014 during a squall. The plaintiffs’ expert witness, Captain Jonathan Mark Walker (“Captain Walker”) in his supplemental report depicted Captain Khuzhin taking...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Admiralty Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2018, December 2018
    • 1 December 2018
    ...[2018] 5 SLR 1397 at [27]–[28]. 18 The Long Bright [2018] 5 SLR 1397 at [33]–[35]. 19 The Long Bright [2018] 5 SLR 1397 at [36]–[40]. 20 [2018] SGHC 93. 21 The Tian E Zuo [2018] SGHC 93 at [19]. 22 The Tian E Zuo [2018] SGHC 93 at [21]. 23 The Tian E Zuo [2018] SGHC 93 at [22]. 24 The Tian ......

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