When sudden damage threatens your ship, you are obliged, within reasonable limits, to take all measures to prevent or reduce that damage. This is called salvage duty.
Not complying with the salvage obligation can have major consequences for the damage payment. The insurer must also reimburse you for the costs you incur. But what exactly is covered by that? Mr Losser owns a large sailing ship with a hydraulic lifting keel. In 2010 he had the double cylinder repaired, whereby the connecting hoses of the cylinders were replaced. A month after this work it turned out that the keel kept sinking, according to Mr Losser because the hydraulic system no longer functioned. The ship could no longer be sailed. Losser reported this incident to his insurer. The ship was put on shore so that an expert could assess the damage. However, the expert judged that there was normal wear and tear to the system, after which the insurer rejected the claim. Losser then submitted a claim to the insurer for an amount in excess of €5,500, stating that these were necessary costs that had been incurred on the instructions of the expert to establish the damage to the keel system and to prevent further damage. In other words, salvage costs. The insurer defended itself by arguing that Losser was inadmissible. After all, as a result of the defects to the keel, it had itself drawn the conclusion that the shipyard had performed the repairs incorrectly and had also held the shipyard liable for this. The insurer therefore rejected the claim and did not consider itself a party to the dispute.
Losser did not leave it at that and went to court. In the proceedings he sought compensation for the costs of having the ship docked for the survey and the repair costs. He therefore abandoned the question of the cause of the damage and with it the question of whether that cause was covered by the insurance. The court had to decide whether the insurer was obliged to reimburse the costs calculated by the shipyard under the heading of salvage costs. During oral proceedings Losser specified the work performed by the shipyard. His claim consisted of EUR 2,000 for survey and docking costs (which the insurer had already agreed to pay out of courtesy) and EUR 3,500 for other costs.
The court therefore had to assess which items of these were to be regarded as salvage costs. The yard had described the work as follows: “Checked the hydraulic operation of the keel. Holes drilled and ground in the keel to detect leakage. Then a test run with the hydraulic system. This showed that both cuffs of the lifting cylinders were leaking. This was due to dirt lying at the bottom of the keel (tar, paint, preservative). This dirt presses against the cuffs during the lifting of the keel, damaging them. The drilled and ground holes were welded shut and the keel suspended from the cover using chain and hook.” There was also the unspecified item “operations”. The yard charged a sum of 245 euros plus labor for the “chain, patent link and hook.” The leaking hydraulic cylinders could not be repaired immediately, as this would have involved a minimum of 20,000 euros. Because the ship could not remain in dock due to lack of time, the yard had fitted a chain to the lifting keel as an “emergency repair” so that it would still have a reasonable draft to sail to its home port. The judge found it plausible that one could not sail the ship responsibly if the keel protruded too deeply. He stated that only those costs should be named as reasonable salvage costs and set a sum of 400 euros including labor for that purpose. The other claimed costs were rejected by the judge. Losser could not demonstrate that the surveyor would have ordered further repairs or that the costs claimed related to necessary repairs.
Conclusion: In principle, the insurer is obliged to reimburse all necessary and reasonable costs to prevent/limit further damage. However, consider carefully what does and does not fall under necessary costs. A claim, however unpleasant, is not a licence to have all kinds of work done on the vessel at the expense of the insurer.
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