North Ridge Fishing Ltd. et al. v. The Prosperity

In Collisions and Ships on (Updated )

This action arose out of a shotgun opening in the roe herring fishery, an event described by the Court as "a most unusual maritime adventure where, from an opening ‘gun’, many vessels -sometimes dozens- would set their nets at speed in very close proximity during a short period of time". During the course of the opening the Defendant vessel "Prosperity" cut the net of the Plaintiffs’ vessel "Savage Fisher" with the result that the Plaintiffs allegedly lost a substantial tonnage of fish. The issues in the case were who was at fault, damages and limitation of liability. On the issue of fault the Court first considered whether Rule 15 of the Collision Regulations (the crossing rule) had any application. The Court held this rule did not apply as the vessels were not actually crossing and neither master considered that they were. The Court next considered Rules 5 (look-out) and 7 (risk of collision). The Court held that there was an insufficient look-out on the Plaintiffs’ vessel which deprived the master of the ability to determine whether a risk of collision existed. With respect to the "Prosperity" the Court held that there was a sufficient look-out of two persons in the wheelhouse but that the master of the "Prosperity" failed to go astern or stop when he should have. The Court ultimately apportioned liability 75% to the Plaintiffs and 25% to the Defendants. Regarding the issue of damages, and specifically the tonnage lost as a result of the net cutting, the Court held that the best approach was to use the average catch of the vessels involved in the opening. Finally, the Court considered the issue of limitation of liability, which was recognized as probably a moot point given the apportionment of liability and assessment of damages. The Court noted that there were two prior decisions that had allowed limitation of liability under similar circumstances and stated that it would have followed those decisions and allowed limitation, if necessary. It is noteworthy, however, that in the absence of precedent the Court indicated that it would not have allowed the Defendants to limit liability. The Court indicated that the decision of an owner to engage in a shotgun herring opening would be sufficient by itself to disentitle the owner to limitation. (Note: In supplementary reasons issued December 6, 2000, [2000] B.C.J. No. 2443, the Court dealt with the issue of costs. The Court awarded the Plaintiffs 25% of their party and party costs and awarded the Defendants 75% of their pre-trial costs (taxed at 70% of special costs) and 75% of their costs from the first day of trial. The special cost award in respect of pre-trial costs was because of delay by the Plaintiffs in the pre-trial proceedings.)