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Colonial Cases

Streamship Baku v. Steamship Angele, 1901

[shipping, salvage]

The Steamship Baku Standard v. The Steamship Angele

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
15 June 1901
Source: The Times, 17 June 1901

LAW REPORT, June 15.


This was an appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Consular Court of Constantinople, of April 3, 1900, confirming, on rehearing, a decision of Mr. Justice O'Malley's.

Mr. Aspinall, K.C., and Mr. Scrutton, K.C., were counsel for the appellants; Mr. Joseph Walton, K.C., and Dr. Charles Stubbs for the respondents.

The appeal was heard in May before a Board consisting of Lord Macnaghten, Lord Davey, Lord Robertson, Lord Lindley, and Sir Ford North, with nautical assessors, and judgment was reserved.

SIR FORD NORTH, in delivering on Thursday their Lordships' judgment, said this was an appeal by the master and owners of the steamship Baku Standard from a judgment of the Supreme consular Court at Constantinople, affirming a judgment of Mr. Justice O'Malley, by which he awarded to the master and owners of the steamship Angele (the present respondents) the sum of £1,000 for salvage and towage services; and also damages subsequently assessed at £1,316 11s. 7d.  The facts were as follows:-

The Baku Standard, of London, was a large oil-tank screw steamer of 2,375 tons register.  On the evening of December 10, 1898, while passing through the Sea of Marmora to Batum, in ballast, she became disabled by the fracture of her propeller shaft.  That was about 6 p.m.  She was practically in no danger, as she was not making any water, there were numerous steamers about, and the weather was not unfavourable.  Tugs could easily have been procured the next day from either Constantinople of the Dardanelles, and if in the meantime the currents had carried her towards the shore she could have anchored in safety. But she was helpless, and made the usual signals for assistance.  First one and then another steamer came up and offered help, but the master declined their aid, thinking he might do better.

About 10 p.m. the Angele, having seen the signals, came up.  She was a British steamer of 1,149 tons, belonging to Malta, and bound for Constantinople in ballast; and after some discussion it was agreed that she should tow the Baku Standard to Constantinople, then about 50 miles distant.  The price to be paid for her services was left to be settled between the owners.  Accordingly, a 4 ½ in. wire hawser belonging to the Baku Standard was carried to the Angele and made fast on her starboard quarter.  The other end of that hawser was shackled to the starboard cable of the Baku Standard, the total distance between the vessels being about 60 fathoms.  When ready, the Angele, with the other vessel in tow, started for Constantinople between midnight and 1 a.m. on December 11.  It appeared that both vessels (probably from being in ballast) steered irregularly and yawed a good deal. About 3 a.m. a violent shock was felt on board the Angele and her engines began to race; indicating some injury to the screw.  But she completed her tow to Constantinople, reaching that port in the evening of the same day.

Upon her arrival there it was found that two of the four blades of her propeller had been broken off from the boss, while a third blade had also been broken across about 8 in. from the boss.  There could be no doubt that this occurred at the time of the shock above mentioned; but there was no direct evidence what was the cause of the accident.  Various suggestions were made, but it was impossible to ascribe the injury with certainty to any definite cause.  It occurred during the towage and there was no proof that the master and crew of the Angele were guilty of any negligence or unskillful management. The action was instituted on behalf of the Angele, claiming  salvage and also the amount of damage actually sustained by her in carrying out the salvage work, with consequent demurrage and other expenses. The Judge of the Supreme Consular Court condemned the defendants in £1,000 for salvage services, and also for the other damages claimed, the amount to be ascertained by the Registrar. That decision was affirmed on appeal.  The amount claimed for damages was £1,504 5s. 1d.  and the Registrar awarded £1,316 11s. 7d.

To deal first with the question of damages.  It was clearly settled that when the vessel of a salvor had, without default on his part, been injured in the performance of salvage services, compensation might be awarded to him in respect of the injury so sustained, and damages consequent thereon.  It was laid down by the Judicial Committee in "Bird and others v. Gibb and others, the de Bay" (L.R. 8 App. Cases, 559) that it was always justifiable - and sometimes important, if it could be done - to ascertain what damages and losses the salving vessel had sustained in rendering  salvage services.  It was often difficult and expensive, and sometimes impossible, to ascertain exactly the amount of such loss, and in such cases the amount of salvage must be assessed, in a general manner, upon so liberal a scale as to cover the loss, and to afford an adequate reward for the services rendered.  It was also laid down in the case of the Thomas Blyth (Lushington's Reports, p. 16), that when the vessel of a salvor was injured or lost while engaged in a savage service, the presumption was that the injury or loss was caused by the necessities of the service, and not by the default of the salvors; and that the burden of proof lay upon the parties who alleged that the loss was caused by the salvors' own acts.

Adopting the principles thus laid down, and in the absence of any evidence that the damage to the Angele was caused by negligence or default on the part of the master or crew of that vessel, their Lordships were of opinion that the damages assessed by the Registrar were rightly awarded against the appellants.  That being so, the compensation to be given for salvage services, as distinguished from compensation for damage, ought to be calculated on a less liberal scale that if the sum given for salvage was intended to cover compensation for damage also.  Their Lordships were of opinion that, considering the evidence and that the compensation for damage was dealt with separately, full justice would have been done by an award of less than £1,000 for salvage.  But that was a question of amount only, and it was not the custom of the Committee to vary the decision of a Court below on a question of amount, merely because they were of opinion that, if the case had come before them in the first instance, they might have awarded a smaller sum.  It had been laid down in the De Bay and other cases, that they would only do so if the amount awarded appeared to them to be grossly in excess of what was right; which was not the case here.

Their Lordships would, therefore humbly advise his Majesty that the appeal should be dismissed.  The appellants must pay the respondents' costs.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School