TT’s Maritime Laws Tested In Shipping Accident

Trinidad and Tobago’s Maritime laws were tested yesterday when shipowners sought to recover US$260,000 in damages after their vessel collided with a barge over two years ago.

Justice Carol Gobin, sitting in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, ruled that the excessive damages contained in Maritime law did not fall within TT jurisprudence, and as such was not applicable in the case.

Instead, Gobin ordered that the defendants pay maximum damages of US$36,557 (TT$.23 million) under Section 359 of the Shipping Act Chapter 50:10.

In the claim laid before the court, the owners of the Malaysian registered vessel Alam Selaras alleged that the damage sustained by the vessel totalled over US$285,233.16.

Gilbert Peterson, SC, and Stacey Benjamin-Roach appeared for the shipowners.

At an earlier hearing, both parties agreed that the damages could either fall in one of two circumstances.

Firstly, under Section 356 of the Act, or alternatively under the provisions of the Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Marine Claims.

If given effect to, by Section 410 of the Shipping Act, the quantum of damages under the convention would substantially increase to US$260,000.

But Gobin, in her ruling on the point, declared Section 410 of the Shipping Act to be “unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.”

Section 410 states, “Where an international convention or other international instrument applies to Trinidad and Tobago and a provision of that convention or instrument and a provision of this act conflict in any manner, the provision of the convention or instrument shall prevail unless the Minister otherwise provides.”

The minister with such jurisdiction was the Attorney General. Douglas Mendes, SC, appeared for the AG’s office.

According to Gobin, following TT’s accession of the convention on February, 2000 its terms had not been incorporated into municipal law through the legislative process. She noted that Section 410 (prima facie) had the effect of breaching Section 53 of the Constitution and Parliamentary sovereignty, in the power to make laws. Attorneys Fyard Hosein, SC, and Nyree Alfonso appeared for the owners of the bunker barge.

Source: Newsday

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