ADML.S. NO. 4 OF 2022
Bunker Partner OU Vs. MV MAIA-1
Date of Order:
18th July, 2022
Hon’ble Justice Sathish Ninan
Petitioner-Bunker Partner OU
Respondent- MV MAIA-1
The High Court of Kerala recently ordered the detention of a Russian cargo ship at the Kochi Port Trust over non-payment of dues to the Estonian corporation, Bunker Partner OU. T.X. Harry of Karuvelippady in Kochi, the power of attorney holder for Bunker Partner OU, headquartered in Estonia, filed the admiralty claim. According to the firm, the payment claim was based on the value of bunkers delivered to the ship.
However, after the order, the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement on the 20th of July and requested a withdrawal of action which was subsequently granted by the court.
- Admiralty Suit- An admiralty suit is a legal dispute involving ships, the ocean, and the sea. Contracts, torts, injuries, and crimes connected to maritime law and happenings on the high seas are all included in the definition of such cases.
- Out-of-court Settlement- This type of settlement is the settlement of a legal issue that occurs outside of a judicial hearing or before the court makes a final judgement
- Prima Facie Case- A prima facie case is established when a legally essential rebuttable presumption is established. A prima facie case is a cause of action or defence that is adequately established by a party's evidence to sustain a finding in his or her favour, provided the other party's evidence is not rebutted.
- The MV Maia-1(IMO No.9358010) had delivered cargo for the Indian military. It set out on June 25 from the Russian port of Novorossiysk and docked in Cochin after stopping at ports in Turkey and Egypt.
- The 'MV MAIA-1' was reportedly anchored at the Cochin Port Anchorage, together with her hull, equipment, engine, mechanical spares, gear, attire, paraphernalia, furnishings, and so on. It was claimed that the vessel docked at the Cochin Port Trust, was within the High Court's jurisdictional seas.
- Bunker Partner OU, an Estonian shore service firm, claimed the operator of the Russian bulk freighter MV Maia-1 owed them $23,503. The Estonian company petitioned the Kerala high court, which issued the order to detain the ship due to unpaid dues.
- The Estdeconian firm claimed that the vessel's owners owed them money, for failing to pay fuel expenses of around Rs18.7m ($23,503.14) to the corporation. The complaint sought a decree for USD 23,503.14/- plus interest at 0.1 percent each day. The claim was for the value of bunkers delivered to the defendant by the plaintiff.
- The Russian embassy in India confirmed on 19th July that the Russian cargo ship was detained in the Indian port of Cochin.
- The Russian embassy had officially requested an explanation of the facts of the situation and the unconditional preservation of the interests of the Russian owners and crew' from India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
- The Russian Consulate General in Chennai was directly in charge of this matter adding that it had requested an explanation from the MEA explaining the incident's circumstances.
- According to the embassy, early evidence showed that these operations were connected to the allegation made by the Estonian shore service firm Bunker Partner OU, which claimed that the ship's owners were allegedly in debt.
Whether a Russian cargo ship could be detained in the state of Kerala over unpaid dues with an Estonian corporation?
- The bench was satisfied that a prima facie case meriting an exparte order of arrest had been made out after reviewing the averments in the plaint and the affidavit presented in support of the application. As a result, a conditional arrest warrant was issued.
- The High Judge mandated the vessel to be detained until $23,503.14, or about $18,68,499.63 (1 US $=79.5) owing to the supplier, was presented before the court by MV MAIA-1, or until it provided satisfactory security for the stated sum.
- The court ordered that within two weeks, the plaintiff/petitioner must provide counter security in the sum of Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees Five lakhs only). The Deputy Conservator of Ports, Cochin Port Trust, was directed to implement the warrant and effectuate the apprehension, seizure, and detention of the defendant vessel MV MAIA-I, as well as its hull, tackles, engine, machinery, board, bunkers, gear, peripherals, and other appurtenances.
- The court permitted the goods to be unloaded because it had nothing to do with the litigation.
SETTLEMENT AND RELEASE
- On the 20th of July, the court stated that it received a document stating that to the extent that the disagreements between the parties have since been addressed, the complaint may be discharged as withdrawn.
- The Russian ship's owner and the Estonian firm that filed the complaint met and worked out the difficulties that emerged. The firm subsequently filed an appeal with the Kerala High Court and dropped its claim.
- Justice Ninan granted approval to withdraw the action and revoked the arrest warrant. It was thereby ordered that the vessel be freed and The Cochin Port Trust be notified as per the decree.
- Permission was obtained and the Admiralty suit was dismissed as withdrawn. As a result, the temporary arrest warrant was revoked. The vessel was permitted to be freed immediately and the Cochin Port Trust was notified of the same.
- The employees of the Russian bulk carrier faced no issues since the arrest was limited to the ship. The sailors remained on board and were given everything they required, so they were well taken care of.
The court decided to release the vessel, close the case, and allow it to depart the port. The Russian seamen were supported by the honorary consul in Trivandrum, who was aiding in obtaining permission from the port authorities to depart from Cochin as quickly as possible, which was a necessary formality.
A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when the Kerala high court approved the return of a Russian ship that had been impounded two days earlier. According to Justice Satish Ninan, the court was informed that the issue between an Estonian corporation and the Russian ship had been resolved between the parties, which led to the release.
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