Commercial Law,  Legally Yours

Far Eastern Shipping Company v. CA

Commercial Law. Transportation. Pilots. Compulsory Pilotage.
G.R. No. 130150; October 1998
M/V PAVLODAR, owned and operated by the Far Eastern Shipping Company (FESC), arrived at the Port of Manila and was assigned Berth 4 of the Manila International Port, as its berthing space. Gavino, who was assigned by the Appellant Manila Pilots’ Association to conduct the docking maneuvers for the safe berthing, boarded the vessel at the quarantine anchorage and stationed himself in the bridge, with the master of the vessel, Victor Kavankov, beside him. After a briefing of Gavino by Kavankov of the particulars of the vessel and its cargo, the vessel lifted anchor from the quarantine anchorage and proceeded to the Manila International Port. The sea was calm and the wind was ideal for docking maneuvers. When the vessel reached the landmark, one-half mile from the pier, Gavino ordered the engine stopped. When the vessel was already about 2,000 feet from the pier, Gavino ordered the anchor dropped. Kavankov relayed the orders to the crew of the vessel on the bow. The left anchor, with two (2) shackles, were dropped. However, the anchor did not take hold as expected. The speed of the vessel did not slacken. A commotion ensued between the crew members.  After Gavino noticed that the anchor did not take hold, he ordered the engines half-astern. Abellana, who was then on the pier apron, noticed that the vessel was approaching the pier fast. Kavankov likewise noticed that the anchor did not take hold. Gavino thereafter gave the “full-astern” code. Before the right anchor and additional shackles could be dropped, the bow of the vessel rammed into the apron of the pier causing considerable damage to the pier as well as the vessel.
(1) Is the pilot of a commercial vessel, under compulsory pilotage, solely liable for the damage caused by the vessel to the pier, at the port of destination, for his negligence?;
(2) Would the owner of the vessel be liable likewise if the damage is caused by the concurrent negligence of the master of the vessel and the pilot under a compulsory pilotage?

(1) Generally speaking, the pilot supersedes the master for the time being in the command and navigation of the ship, and his orders must be obeyed in all matters connected with her navigation. He becomes the master pro hac vice and should give all directions as to speed, course, stopping and reversing anchoring, towing and the like. And when a licensed pilot is employed in a place where pilotage is compulsory, it is his duty to insist on having effective control of the vessel or to decline to act as pilot. Under certain systems of foreign law, the pilot does not take entire charge of the vessel but is deemed merely the adviser of the master, who retains command and control of the navigation even in localities where pilotage is compulsory. It is quite common for states and localities to provide for compulsory pilotage, and safety laws have been enacted requiring vessels approaching their ports, with certain exceptions, to take on board pilots duly licensed under local law. The purpose of these laws is to create a body of seamen thoroughly acquainted with the harbor, to pilot vessels seeking to enter or depart, and thus protect life and property from the dangers of navigation. Upon assuming such office as a compulsory pilot, Capt. Gavino is held to the universally accepted high standards of care and diligence required of a pilot, whereby he assumes to have skill and knowledge in respect to navigation in the particular waters over which his license extends superior to and more to be trusted than that of the master. He is not held to the highest possible degree of skill and care but must have and exercise the ordinary skill and care demanded by the circumstances, and usually shown by an expert in his profession. Under extraordinary circumstances, a pilot must exercise extraordinary care. In this case, Capt. Gavino failed to measure up to such strict standard of care and diligence required of pilots in the performance of their duties. As the pilot, he should have made sure that his directions were promptly and strictly followed.

(2) The negligence on the part of Capt. Gavino is evident; but Capt. Kabancov is no less responsible for the allision. The master is still in command of the vessel notwithstanding the presence of a pilot. A perusal of Capt. Kabankov’s testimony makes it apparent that he was remiss in the discharge of his duties as master of the ship, leaving the entire docking procedure up to the pilot, instead of maintaining watchful vigilance over this risky maneuver. The owners of a vessel are not personally liable for the negligent acts of a compulsory pilot, but by admiralty law, the fault or negligence of a compulsory pilot is imputable to the vessel and it may be held liable therefor in rem. Where, however, by the provisions of the statute the pilot is compulsory only in the sense that his fee must be paid, and is not in compulsory charge of the vessel, there is no exemption from liability. Even though the pilot is compulsory, if his negligence was not the sole cause of the injury, but the negligence of the master or crew contributed thereto, the owners are liable. But the liability of the ship in rem does not release the pilot from the consequences of his own negligence. The master is not entirely absolved of responsibility with respect to navigation when a compulsory pilot is in charge. Except insofar as their liability is limited or exempted by statute, the vessel or her owners are liable for all damages caused by the negligence or other wrongs of the owners or those in charge of the vessel. As a general rule, the owners or those in possession and control of a vessel and the vessel are liable for all natural and proximate damages caused to persons or property by reason of her negligent management or navigation.

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