References:  1 Lloyd’s Rep 264
Coram: Mustill J
Mustill J considered liability under a marine insurance where damage was suffered when the sea state was within what might reasonably be anticipated: ‘The cases make it quite plain that if the action of the wind or sea is the immediate cause of the loss, a claim lies under the policy notwithstanding that the conditions were within the range which could reasonably have been anticipated’.
Mustill J said: ‘Assuming, therefore, that the cases on ‘perils of the seas’ may properly be cited in the present context, what principles do they lay down? I think it helpful, when approaching this difficult area of the law, to draw two sets of distinctions. The first relates to weather conditions, which for present purposes may be divided into three categories: (i) ‘Abnormally bad weather’. Here the weather lies outside the range of conditions which the assured could reasonably foresee that the vessel might encounter on the voyage in question. (ii) ‘Adverse weather’: namely, weather which lies within the range of what could be foreseen, but at the unfavourable end of that range. In effect, the weather is worse than could be hoped, but no worse than could be envisaged as a possibility. (iii) ‘Favourable weather’: namely, weather which lies within that range, but is not bad enough to be classed as ‘adverse’. At the other extreme of the range from ‘adverse’ weather can be found what may be called ‘perfect’ weather.
The assignment of the conditions of wind and sea encountered on any particular occasion to one of these categories will vary according to the nature of the voyage: what is abnormal weather for a short passage in sheltered waters may well be commonplace on a winter voyage in the North Atlantic. Similarly, the nature of the vessel will have to be taken into account. Some craft are not intended to endure conditions which would be trivial for a more robust vessel.
‘The second distinction relates to seaworthiness, and is one of degree. A vessel is ‘unseaworthy’ if it is unfit to face all the hazards which ‘a ship of that kind, and laden in that way, may fairly be expected to encounter’ on the voyage: Steel v. State Line S.S. Co., (1877) 3 App. Cas. 72, at p. 77. Thus the vessel must be fit to deal adequately with adverse as well as favourable weather. Moreover, quite apart from mere unseaworthiness, there may be instances in which the ship is in such a weak condition that it cannot withstand even perfect weather. Borrowing a word from Wadsworth Lighterage & Coaling Co. v. Sea Insurance Co., (1929) 34 Ll.L.Rep. 98 at p. 105, the ship may be said to suffer from ‘debility’. All debilitated ships are unseaworthy, but the contrary is not the case.
‘With these distinctions in mind, I believe that the effect of the authorities, so far as material to the present case, may be quite briefly stated as follows.
First, as to ‘perils of the seas’. The definition contained in r. 7 of the rules for the construction of policy set out in the first schedule to the Act excludes ‘the ordinary action of the winds and waves’. While it is tempting to deduce from these words that a loss is not recoverable unless it results from weather which is extraordinary (namely, what I have referred to as abnormal weather conditions) this interpretation is mistaken. The principal object of the definition is to rule out losses resulting from wear and tear. The word ‘ordinary’ attaches to ‘action’, not to ‘wind and waves’. The cases make it quite plain that if the action of the wind or sea is the immediate cause of the loss, a claim lies under the policy notwithstanding that the conditions were within the range which could reasonably have been anticipated. All that is needed is (in the words of Lord Buckmaster in Grant, Smith & Co. v. Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Co.,  A.C. 162 at p. 171)-
. . . some condition of sea or weather or accident of navigation producing a result which but for these conditions would not have occurred.
See also Hamilton, Fraser & Co. v. Pandorf & Co., (1887) 12 App. Cas. 518 at p. 527; Canada Rice Mills v. Union Marine and General Insurance Co., (1941) 67 Ll.L.Rep. 549;  A.C. 55 ; N. E. Neter & Co. v. Licences and General Insurance Co., (1944) 77 Ll.L.Rep. 202 at p. 205.
Second, as to causation. It may be that the doctrine of proximate cause has undergone some reassessment since the days when the most important cases on the present topic were decided. In those days the ultimate cause was more readily identified as the proximate cause than might be the case today. Nevertheless, it is clearly established that a chain of causation running – (i) initial unseaworthiness; (ii) adverse weather; (iii) loss of watertight integrity of the vessel; (iv) damage to the subject-matter insured – is treated as a loss by perils of the seas, not by unseaworthiness: see, for example, Dudgeon v. Pembroke, (1874) 9 Q.B. 581, per Mr. Justice Blackburn at p. 595, and (1877) 2 App. Cas. 284 , per Lord Penzance at p. 296, and Frangos v. Sun Insurance Office, (1934) 49 Ll.L.Rep. 354, at p. 359.
Third, as to ‘debility’. Where a ship sinks through its own inherent weakness, there is no loss recoverable under the ordinary form of policy. It is not enough for this purpose that the vessel is unseaworthy. The loss must be disassociated from any peril of wind or water, even if these form the immediate context of the loss, and constitute the immediate agency (for example, the percolation of water through an existing flaw in the hull) by which the loss takes place. As Lord Buckmaster said in Grant, Smith v. Seattle Construction, sup., the policy is not a guarantee that a ship will float. See also Fawcus v. Sarsfield, (1856) 6 E. & B. 192, in relation to the first loss; Merchants’ Trading Co. v. Universal Marine Insurance Co., (1870) 2 Asp. M.L.C. 431, the direction of Mr. Justice Lush approved by the Court of Common Pleas; Ballantyne v. Mackinnon,  2 Q.B., 455; Sassoon v. Western Assurance Co.,  A.C. 561.
Finally, as to the requirement that a loss by perils of the seas shall be ‘fortuitous’. There may be philosophical problems here, possibly compounded by the placing of more weight than it was intended to bear on the apophthegm of Lord Herschell in Wilson, Sons & Co. v. Owners of Cargo per the ‘Xantho’, ((1887) 12 App. Cas. 503 at p. 509) that-
. . . the purpose of the policy is to secure an indemnity against accidents which may happen, not against events which must happen.
There can be few losses of which it can be said that they must happen, in the sense that this accident is bound to happen in this way at this time. Indeed, in some of the leading cases it could hardly have been predicted that the loss was bound to happen at all, whilst the policy was on risk. It is, however, unnecessary to enter into this problem. When the vessel succumbs to debility, the claim fails, not because the loss is quite unattended by fortuity, but because it cannot be ascribed to the fortuitous action of the wind and waves. A decrepit ship might sink in perfect weather tomorrow, or it might not sink for six months. To this extent a loss tomorrow is not inevitable. But if the ship does sink, there is no external fortuitous event which brings it about. In respect of such losses, the ordinary marine policy does not provide a remedy.
‘In the light of these propositions, I now return to the facts of the present case. Miss Jay Jay was plainly unseaworthy, but can it be said that the craft suffered from debility in the sense to which I have referred? It seems to me that the answer must be – ‘No’. There is no reason to suppose that the boat would have sunk at her moorings, or while under way in a millpond sea. Indeed, she had only recently completed a Channel crossing. Conversely, if one asked whether the loss was due to the fortuitous action of the wind and waves, the answer must be – ‘Yes’. True, the weather was not exceptional, but this is immaterial. Whichever of the expert witnesses may be right as to the mechanism of the structural failure, the immediate cause was the action of adverse weather conditions on an ill-designed and ill-made hull. The cases show that this is sufficient to bring the loss within the words of a time policy in the standard form. Since I consider that there is, for present purposes, no material distinction between ‘perils of the seas’ and ‘external accidental means’, I hold that the plaintiffs establish a prima facie loss under section 1 (a) of the policy.’
Statutes: Marine Insurance Act 1906 55(1)
This case cites:
- Cited – Steel -v- State Line Steamship Co ((1877) 3 AC 72)
An insured ship should be ‘in a condition to encounter whatever perils of the sea a ship of that kind and laden in that way may be fairly expected to encounter.’ However, an express exception of negligence did not cover loss due to unseaworthiness. . .
This case is cited by:
- Appeal from – The Miss Jay Jay CA ( 1 Lloyds Rep 32)
- Cited – Global Process Systems Inc and Another -v- Berhad CA (Bailii,  EWCA Civ 1398, Times,  Lloyd’s Rep IR 221,  2 CLC 1056,  1 Lloyd’s Rep 243)
An oil rig suffered major damage in transit in rough seas. The insurers repudiated liability saying that the damages was the result of a natural vice rather than perils at sea.
Held: The fact that the sea conditions were within the range of . .
- Appeal from – J J Lloyd Instruments Ltd -v- Northern Star Insurance Co Ltd (The ‘Miss Jay Jay’) CA ( 1 Lloyd’s Rep 32)
The owner claimed for damage to the hull of the Jay Jay.
Held: Where there are two operative causes, one covered by the policy risks and one not, then provided that the second cause is not an excluded peril, the Assured can recover. There was . .
- Cited – Global Process Systems Inc and Another -v- Berhad SC (Bailii,  UKSC 5, Bailii Summ, UKSC 2010/0006, SC Summ, SC,  1 All ER 869,  1 Lloyds Rep 560,  Bus LR 537, 2011 AMC 305)
An oil rig was being transported from Texas to Malaysia. During the voyage, three of the four legs suffered damage. The insurers refused liability saying that the damage was the result of inherent weaknesses in the rig.
Held: The insurer’s . .
- Cited – Petroleo Brasileiro Sa -v- Ene Kos 1 Ltd (‘The MT Kos’) SC (Bailii,  UKSC 17,  2 WLR 976, Bailii Summary, UKSC 2010/0157, SC Summary, SC)
The MT Kos had been chartered by the appellants. The respondents failed to make payments, and notice was given to withdraw the vessel. The contract said that such a notice was without prejudice to any claim. At the time, the vessel was laden. The . .