Safe navigation in icy waters


Published: 30 May 2012

In the recent winter and ice campaign period, the Association had a number of enquiries from Members about vessels going to ice bound ports. In particular, there were a number of instances where non-ice classed vessels were chartered to go to ice bound ports and subsequently significant hull, propeller and rudder damage followed.

The Association would like to remind Members that it is always important to check whether a particular port is in fact safe for the specific vessel under consideration. For that it is useful to have reference to the legal test set out in the seminal case of The Eastern City [1957] 2 Ll. Rep. 153, which held :-

“A port will not be safe unless, in the relevant period of time, the particular ship can reach it, use it and return from it without, in the absence of some abnormal occurrence, being exposed to danger which cannot be avoided by good navigation and seamanship.”

The question of safety is not one, however, which can be determined on a purely legal basis. It is question of fact in each case.

What can be expressed in general terms, however, is that a non-ice classed vessel is at high risk of damage when having to force ice, enter, stay or leave and ice bound area or port. This is even if Ice Breakers are there to assist the vessel.

Furthermore, many ice bound areas may be outside of INL (International Navigating Limits, the replacement of the IWL) and it could result in breach of Warranty under the Ship’s hull insurance policy.

In the circumstances, sending a non-ice classed vessel to a port where she will, or is likely to, encounter ice may be prejudicial to Members’ cover.

Before considering such business, the Association would very much recommend Members to make contact so that the risks can be considered and managed for the benefit of the Member.