Transnet fights court battle in three countries

Durban harbour. (Photo: iStock)
Durban harbour. (Photo: iStock)

Transnet has become involved in a court battle in three different countries after a ship collision in ­­Durban Harbour caused almost R270m worth of damage.

The freight ship Julian entered the harbour on April 30 with the help of two of Transnet’s tugboats and a harbour pilot. The ship collided with the quayside and a bulk loading appliance.

The damage to the ship amounts to about R3.9m. The damage to the loading appliance is about R269m and the damage to the quayside wall amounts to R250 000, according to a judgment in the Durban High Court.

Almost all of the parties are now involved in a fight in court over who should pay for the damages.

Transnet, the owner of the harbour property, has sued the owner and the bareboat charterer of the ship for the damages to the dock.

Bulk Connexions, the operator of the terminal that the loading appliance forms a part of, has in turn sued the owner and bareboat charterer of the ship in courts in Germany and Hong Kong for their damages.

Dutch company Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Co is the owner of the ship. Fortysixth Phoenix Shipping, a Liberian company, is the charterer of the vessel. They are holding Transnet responsible for the damage due to the harbour pilot and the tugboat crew’s alleged negligence.

The owner and the charterer of Julian wanted the court to grant an order in terms of the Merchant Shipping Act confirming that their liability was limited.

According to the act, if damage is incurred without any fault on the part of the owner of the ship, the owner will not be liable for damages in respect of loss or damage to property or rights to an aggregate amount exceeding 66.67 special drawing rights for each ton of the ship’s tonnage.

The applicants have asked the court to apply this limitation against Bulk Connexions.

Bulk Connexions, which is situated in Durban, has, however, said that it would not sue the applicants in a South African court, but in a foreign court, where there was a greater limitation applicable.

Bulk Connexions said that there was fault on the part of the applicants, which led to the ­accident.

The high court said Bulk Connexions was not a claimant in South Africa, so the limitation of liability could not be applicable to it.

A court in Hong Kong or Germany could determine if they would apply the South African limitation of liability, the court ruled.

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