Mercury Launch & Tug Ltd. v. Texada Quarrying Ltd.

In Docks Wharves and Marinas on (Updated )

The barge “MLT HWY” was damaged when she broke her moorings in extreme weather and grounded upon nearby rocks. The Plaintiff was the owner of the barge, which had been moored at the Defendant’s facility for the loading of a cargo of crushed stone. The Plaintiff’s tug, which had towed the barge to the facility, was moored to a buoy 0.75 miles from the facility awaiting the completion of the loading. The contract between the Plaintiff and the purchaser of the cargo, who was not a party, provided, inter alia, that the Plaintiff was to have the care, custody and control of the barge at all times. The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant was a bailee of the barge and had the onus of proving the absence of fault on its part. The Plaintiff further alleged that the Defendant had failed to provide a safe berth, failed to provide sufficient mooring lines and failed to monitor the weather or advise it of developing bad weather. The Court noted that bailment involved a transfer of possession and required a high degree of physical control over the chattel and further noted that the Defendant had accepted the barge at its berth, had assumed responsibility for providing lines, had monitored and adjusted the lines, and maintained a barge loader at the berth to keep an eye on the barge. The Court further noted, however, that the Master of the tug knew he was responsible for deciding whether the barge should leave the berth because of bad weather and that the Plaintiff expected the Master to make this decision. The Court said that if the barge had been manned or if the tug had remained at the berth she would have had no difficulty in concluding there was not a bailment. The fact that the tug was 0.75 miles away and moored to a buoy did not alter this conclusion. In the Court’s view “the keys to the barge were not delivered to” the Defendant and there was no bailment. The Court further said that even if there had been a bailment it would not have reversed the onus of proof as it was not a “pure bailment”. The Court next considered the various allegations regarding safe berth and negligence. The Court concluded that the berth was not unsafe merely because the barge had to be removed in bad weather as this was a well known fact. The Court rejected the other allegations of negligence, finding that the cause of the loss was the failure of the Master of the tug to monitor the deteriorating weather at the dock and his failure to remove the barge from the dock.