The Popi M; Rhesa Shipping Co SA v Edmonds: 1983

The parties disputed the cause of the loss of a ship. The experts suggested different but improbably explanations; each supported as the most likely explanation only because any other hypothesis was regarded as almost (if not altogether) impossible. The owners of the ship claimed against underwriters for her total loss which had occurred in calm weather. It became common ground that the vessel had sunk because of an ingress of sea water through a hole in the side plating. Underwriters contended that the vessel had been unseaworthy and that had been the proximate cause of the entry of water. The court made no finding that the vessel was seaworthy or that she was unseaworthy; he was left in doubt. The owners put forward a case that the hole in the side plating had been caused by contact with a submerged and moving submarine by eliminating other possibilities; the judge concluded that contact with a moving submarine was so improbable that if he were to conclude that it was the likely cause of the loss he had to be satisfied that any other explanation for the casualty had to be ruled out. The underwriters put forward a case that the hole had arisen through wear and tear and provided a detailed explanation as to how that had happened. The judge rejected that detailed explanation and was therefore left with a choice between the owner’s submarine hypothesis and the possibility that the casualty occurred as a result of wear and tear but by means of a mechanism which remained in doubt.
Held: Bingham J referred to the dictum of Sherlock Holmes: ‘How often have I said to you that, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’ He concluded that, despite the inherent improbability and despite the disbelief with which he had been inclined to regard it, the collision with the submarine had to be accepted on the balance of the probabilities as the explanation of the casualty.


Bingham J


[1983] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 235

Cited by:

At First InstanceRhesa Shipping Co SA v Edmonds (The Popi M) HL 16-May-1985
The Popi M sank in calm seas and fair weather as a result of a large and sudden entry of water into her engine room through her shell plating. The vessel’s owners claimed against her hull and machinery underwriters, contending that the loss was . .
CitedIde v ATB Sales Ltd and Another CA 28-Apr-2008
Each appellant challenged how the judge had decided between alternative proofs of causation of the respective loss. In Ide, the claimant asserted a fault in a cycle handlebar, and in Lexus, the claimant asserted that it caught fire whilst . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Damages, Litigation Practice

Updated: 17 May 2022; Ref: scu.267224