Ship Damaged By Fire Caused By Pirates Found To Be Constructive Total Loss

Author:Ms Susannah Wakefield and Miranda Josepth
Profession:Taylor Wessing
 
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(1) Suez Fortune Investments Ltd, (2) Piraeus Bank AE v Talbot Underwriting Ltd and others1

English High Court, 15 January 2015

The High Court was asked to determine a number of preliminary issues, including whether a vessel was a constructive total loss ("CTL"), whether the claimants had lost the right to claim for a CTL by selling the vessel, and whether the claimants were entitled to an indemnity for salvage, tug hire and port expenses under a war risks policy.

Background

The first claimant was the owner of the tanker Brillante Virtuoso (the "vessel"). The vessel was insured against war risks under a policy underwritten by the defendants. The second claimant was the mortgagee of the vessel and the co-assured under the policy. The value of the vessel under the hull and machinery section of the policy was US$55 million, and a further US$22 million under the increased value section of the policy.

In July 2011, whilst en route from the Ukraine to China, the vessel (carrying a cargo of fuel oil) stopped off in Aden in order for an unarmed security team to embark ahead of their journey through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean where there is a risk of pirate attacks. However, whilst the vessel was waiting, it was in fact boarded by armed pirates who detonated an explosive device causing a fire on board and destroying a substantial proportion of machinery and equipment. The vessel subsequently became a dead ship with no power.

The crew were rescued by the US navy and the owners engaged a salvage company the same day to extinguish the fire. The owners' consultant surveyor inspected the ship and sought quotations from shipyards in the Middle East and China for the cleaning and repairs of the vessel. He formed the opinion that the cost of repair would exceed the insured value of US$55 million. Accordingly, the owners tendered a notice of abandonment ("NOA") to the insurers declaring the vessel a CTL. The insurers rejected the NOA.

The owners instructed shipbrokers to sell the vessel to a suitable buyer for scrap, however, the shipbrokers struggled to find a purchaser, and only managed to secure an offer of US$700,000 for the vessel. The insurers did not object to the sale at the time (in spite of being given an opportunity to do so) and the vessel was subsequently sold.

The claimants' case was that the vessel suffered loss and damage by reason of an insured peril or perils (i.e. the acts of pirates and/or persons acting maliciously, alternatively terrorists...

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