Waterkampioen watersport magazine

What may a tow cost?

It can happen to you, getting stuck and needing to be pulled loose. The circumstances under which it happens determine the price the salvage company charges. And so here too: watch your step.

The car comes to a standstill by the side of the road with a smoking engine: no problem, we’ll call the roadside assistance. If we are not a member, we become one and for a modest fee we are helped. On the water, however, there is no roadside assistance. What do you do when you have a breakdown? That help on the water can be an expensive joke when you are not careful, experienced Mr. Thomasson a little off-shore on the Wadden Sea. Mr. Thomasson thought he could sail his newly purchased Dufour, a used 39-footer, to Denmark himself. On the Wadden Sea, he ran aground in sight of one of the Wadden harbors late in the afternoon. Although the weather was pleasant, with sunshine and a nice breeze, Thomasson thought it would be nice to be in port before dark. He inquired on the VHF radio whether there was anyone in the area who could give a tow. Promptly he got an answer and then a brightly colored motor boat raced in his direction, manned by gentlemen “who looked offical” and he was refloated. There was no mention of costs. Arriving in port, Mr. Thomasson had to sign a “general tug and salvage agreement”, but still no costs were mentioned. He was therefore “not amused” when, a few weeks later, he received a request to pay an amount of six thousand euros for his tow! The salvage company claimed that there had been “danger” and that the company was therefore entitled to so-called “assistance fees”. In order to understand the financial risks of accepting help from professional salvagers without question, I will explain both concepts here.

The law stipulates that in the event there is a risk of damage to the vessel or safety of the persons on board, a party providing assistance is entitled to assistance pay. If there is no agreement on the amount, it must be determined what a reasonable amount is. The law and jurisprudence have developed ten criteria for this: 1) the value of the vessel; 2) the professional skill and effort of the salvor with respect to the environment (this also concerns commercial shipping); 3) the result of the assistance; 4) the nature and seriousness of the danger; 5) the professional skill of the rescuer with respect to the vessel, the crew and the transported goods; 6) the time used by the rescuer, costs incurred and any losses incurred; 7) the risk of liability incurred by the rescuer; 8) the speed of the service; 9) the availability and use of the equipment intended for the rescue; 10) the state of readiness, efficiency and value of the equipment.

Out of proportion.
The salvage company maintains that there was danger to the vessel and that Thomasson had sent out a distress call, which it disputes. However, Thomasson was also not unreasonable and had paid the salvage company an amount of €1,500 in advance. He considered this to be more than adequate compensation for what was in fact no more than a quarter of an hour’s towing of the ship, where in fact just pulling the ship loose would have sufficed. Moreover, he found the six thousand euros completely disproportionate compared to the value of his ship (i.e. € 33,000.00). He also reiterated that there had been no danger: “it was a rising tide, the weather was fine and he was within sight of the harbour.” The salvage company argued that it had turned out with two vessels and that the equipment it had deployed justified such a claim. Thomasson, in turn, replied that the salvage company knew exactly what the situation was, since it had the ship in sight, and that turning out with “full equipment” should really be at its expense and risk.

The discussion is now being held in court and the judge will pass judgment. There has been little litigation on this matter, but in 2013 a subdistrict court judge concluded, along the lines of the reasoning in this article, that the invoice of a salvage company of € 3,867.50, taking all circumstances into consideration, was disproportionate and was considerably mitigated. The pulling loose of a Bavaria from the Vrouwenzand, with a small tugboat that took 2.5 hours, was allowed by the judge to cost eight hundred euros. Both situations are extremely similar. We will keep you informed of the outcome of this case!

Tip: unlike the KNRM, salvage companies do not work for free. It is their work. Often the subject of costs is quickly dismissed with the statement that if one is insured, the costs will be reimbursed. However, that depends on the insurer and whether the policy conditions include coverage for salvage costs. Check this! In the other case, when there is no whooping storm but a more or less ‘roadside assistance’, make clear agreements about the costs so you will not be faced with unpleasant surprises like this.

More information or download old articles:  https://www.anwb.nl/kampioen/algemeen/digitaal-archief

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