The Rhine Navigation Judge: competent in a claim for damages between crew member and ship owner?

The Rhine Navigation Judge: competent in a claim for damages between crew member and ship owner?

In a recent ruling, the District Court of Rotterdam answered the question of whether a claim brought by a crew member against the ship owner for compensation for the damage he suffered on board falls under the jurisdiction regulation in the Mannheim Act.

This concerns a Serbian crew member of an inland vessel sailing on the Rhine who at some point became incapacitated due to an injury as a result of the work he performed on board the ship, including regular heavy lifting. The crew member believes that the Swiss owner of the ship has violated his obligation to ensure a safe workplace and safe working conditions. For this reason, the crew member (among other things) holds the owner of the ship liable for the damage he or she suffers as a result.

The crew member is of the opinion that the Rotterdam court, as Rhine navigation judge, has jurisdiction under the Mannheim Act to hear the present dispute. The Mannheim Act, officially called the Revised Rhine Navigation Act, was concluded on October 17, 1868 and amended on November 20, 1963 and concerns Rhine navigation. The Netherlands is a party to this treaty. It follows from Article 34 (II) (c) of the Mannheim Act that the Rhine Navigation Courts have jurisdiction in civil cases in disputes concerning “damage caused by skippers and timber rafters during the voyage or during mooring”.

The court considers that the Mannheim Act – if applicable to this dispute – takes precedence over the Lugano II Convention (also) applicable here, but rejects the crew member’s appeal to the jurisdiction of the Rhine Navigation Judge under the Mannheim Act.

According to this judgment, the jurisdiction regulation under the Mannheim Act does not apply to claims by the crew against their own shipowner or employer due to injuries related to working conditions. The jurisdiction with regard to claims arising from collision (from preparation for loading to the end of unloading) is contrasted with the lack of jurisdiction with regard to “all other matters relating to inland shipping”.

The crew member does not agree with this ruling and appeals to the Appeals Chamber of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) in Strasbourg.

Erik Klinkhamer

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