P&I Club

Update Volume 2020/30 Obstructions in the inland waterways

Published on 30 september 2020

Waterway obstructions in inland shipping are unfortunately a regular occurrence. The causes vary from regular maintenance work to bridges or locks, due to collisions or as a result of low water levels. Whatever the reason, it is an inconvenience for every shipowner and may result in significant delay and expenses. We are regularly asked to advise in such circumstances with regards to whether the shipowner is entitled to compensation. By means of this article we hope to provide some clarity on this subject:

  • The first thing we need to clarify is the cause of the obstruction. Based on the cause we can in turn assess whether any third party or government authority can be held liable and will often be determinative of the prospects of recovery. An obstruction caused by a collision is more likely to involve third party liability than an unexpected breakdown of a bridge.
  • The second point of consideration is whether a civil party or an authority has caused the obstruction. This will often determine whether any recovery will be subject to private or public law and the prospects of a successful recovery.  We also recommend checking with your brokers or underwriters whether you are insured for obstruction under your insurance policies.
  • In the event that the obstruction has been caused by a civil party who can be held liable, it will be necessary to substantiate the claim. The shipowner will need to show that the delay was caused by the obstruction and provide evidence of their loss. It is also necessary to particularize the loss by disclosing the hire rate earned by the vessel or the average income earned in a period before and after the incident
  • In relation to instances where the authorities have acted lawfully, for example when the obstruction has been caused due to regular maintenance, it may be possible to seek compensation under particular regulations. We refer in this regard to our newsletter Volume 2018/22.

As set out above, whether or not a shipowner can seek compensation for delay caused by obstruction will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. We recommend contacting us as soon as you have suffered delays due to an obstruction to allow us to assess your legal position and assist in gathering the necessary evidence.

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