Andrew Young looks at claims arising from accidents at sea in the following article.
1.The recent capsizing of the Italian cruise ship, Costa Concordia, has focussed attention on the claims available to passengers involved in such disasters.
2.The international carriage of passengers by sea is governed under English law by the Athens Convention 1974, which has been in force in the UK since 1996 by virtue of section 183 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
3.The Athens Convention covers not only accidents at sea but also more common complaints like food poisoning and other forms of bacterial and viral illness contracted by passengers while travelling on international cruises.
4.An important restriction in the scope of the Athens Convention is that it does not apply to domestic cruises –for example, cruises around the British Isles or the coast of Scotland –but it do include cruiseswhich start and finish in the UK but involve stopovers in other countries. Therefore, a cruise that starts and ends in Southampton but involves visits to Mediterranean ports will be covered by the Athens Convention.
5.Personal injury and lost baggage claims under the Athens Convention have a shorter limitation period of 2 years under Article16 than the normal limitation period of 3 years for personal injury claims under English law. There is also no possibility of extending that limitation period as there is under section 33 of the English Limitation Act 1980. Time for limitation purposes starts to run from the date of disembarkation.
6.Article 14(1) of the Athens Convention states that no action for damages is to be brought against a carrier otherwise than in accordance with the Convention. It follows that the Athens Convention provides an exclusive remedyin respect of personal injury claims against the carrier. There is no alternative claim that can be brought under the Package Travel Regulations 1992. There are in fact conflicting county court decisions on this point –Norfolk v. My Travel  1 LlR 106 (HHJ Overend, Plymouth County Court) decided that this was the case whereas the circuit judge in Lee & Lee v. Airtours  ITLJ 198 decided that held that the PTR 1992 provide a parallel remedy to that contained in the Athens Convention. However, both Grant & Mason on Holiday Lawand Alan Saggerson on Travel Law and Litigation argue that the second case is wrongly decided.
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