A widow whose husband was killed while dismantling a VLCC vessel in Bangladesh can press ahead with her claim against the UK-based shipping company involved in the vessel’s sale
UK solicitors Leigh Day represented the widow of Khalil Mollah who fell to his death on 30 March 2018 while working on the defunct oil tanker Ekta in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyard in Chattogram (formerly Chittagong), Bangladesh.
In a judgment handed down on 13 July 2020, an English High Court judge refused to strike out a claim for negligence brought by widow Hamida Begum against Maran (UK) Ltd.
Mr Justice Jay said, “The proximate cause of the accident was the deceased’s fall from a height, but on a broader, purposive approach the accident resulted from a chain of events which led to the vessel being grounded at Chattogram.”
Mr Justice Jay held that Maran (UK) Ltd arguably owed a duty of care to the Bangladeshi worker killed on the vessel.
The judge also agreed with Mrs Begum’s solicitors, Leigh Day, that it was arguable that:
According to solicitors Leigh Day, the VLCC Ekta had been owned and managed by companies within the Angelicoussis Shipping Group, which included Maran (UK) Limited. In a transaction in August 2017, worth over US$16M, it was sold for demolition. Soon afterwards, it was deliberately run aground on a beach at Chattogram, Bangladesh to be broken up.
According to broker reports at the time, Ekta was formerly Maran Centaurus (ex-Astro Centaurus, ex-Mindoro) and had been deflagged from Greece to Palau and was reported sold for scrapping to cash buyer Wirana Shipping, for US$404 per tonne (assessed at 40,205 tonnes) including 300 tonnes of bunkers.
Mr Justice Jay said, “[The Defendant argued that] given that nearly all vessels ended up in south Asia, it could not be said that [Maran UK Ltd] was deviating from standard practice. I reject that submission on the straightforward basis that if standard practice was inherently dangerous, it cannot be condoned as sound and rational even though almost everybody does the same.”
Mr Justice Jay dismissed Maran (UK) Ltd’s application to strike out the claim for negligence and the case continues towards trial.
Mrs Begum is represented by Leigh Day solicitor Alex Wessely, who said, “The shipping industry is renowned for its lack of transparency, especially when the dangers of shipbreaking are concerned. We are very pleased with this judgment, which we hope is a step towards creating proper accountability for when things go tragically wrong.”
Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland said, “The judgment handed down today is a great relief to our client, who has suffered not only the loss of her husband, but of her security and livelihood. There has been a campaign for many years to halt the dangerous life-threatening practices of shipbreaking on the beaches of Bangladesh. If Maran (UK) Ltd is made to accept that it owed Mr Khalil Mollah a duty of care, maybe that will go some way to making UK shipping companies think twice about accepting greater financial reward for their end-of-life vessels at the cost of the environment and the lives of south Asian workers.”
In November 2009, as Maran Centaurus, the crude oil-laden VLCC was kidnapped by Somali pirates and released after a ransom of between US$5.5M and US$7M was paid. At the time, one of the pirates, Hassan, told Reuters news agency by telephone, “We have agreed to solve our disagreements and release the ship. It is free and sailing away now. The crew are all safe.”
UPDATE: 10 March 2021 - An attempt by Maran (UK) Limited to have the claim struck out by the Court of Appeal has failed.
The Court held that a shipping company in London selling a vessel to south Asia could owe a duty of care to shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh even where there are multiple third parties involved in the transaction.
Lord Justice Coulson said “… the appellant could, and should, have insisted on the sale to a so-called ‘green’ yard, where proper working practices were in place.”
Leigh Day lawyers representing widow Hamida Begum believe it is the first judgment of a higher court anywhere which directly holds that shipping companies can be liable for the practice.
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