Massive rescue bill for Spirit of Mawson

Where will the liability fall?

Where will the liability fall?

Prof Chris Turney and the University of New South Wales could end up liable for up to AU$2.4 million to cover the cost of the rescue of the Ship of Fools:

THE Federal Government will seek the full costs incurred during the recovery effort to save the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt yesterday said costs, estimated at about $2.4 million, would be sought from the insurer of the operators of the vessel.

The MV Akademik Shokalskiy, chartered by the University of NSW-associated Australasian Antarctic Expedition to retrace the steps of explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, became stuck in thick sea ice on Christmas Eve.

The 52 passengers were rescued by the Aurora Australis on January 2.

Mr Hunt said the Commonwealth would seek compensation for the recovery effort. “We will be seeking full cost recovery through insurers for the up to $2.4 million costs incurred by the Australian government,” he said. “We have a duty to protect life at sea and we do that willingly.

“However, what we see here is that there are some questions as to whether or not the ship was detained by the action of those on board within an area the captain had identified as potentially being subject to being frozen in.

“I think we have a duty on behalf of taxpayers to seek full cost recovery.” (source)

Turney continues to claim the events were unavoidable:

“We were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was an extreme event and it caught us,” he said.

“On Boxing Day, we got hit with a south easterly blizzard with wind gusts up to 70km/h, the result of which was that the sea ice edge to open water blew out from two to four nautical miles to 20 nautical miles and there we stayed.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, claims that Turney ignored the instructions of the captain:

From midday on December 23 passengers were transported from the ship on snow vehicles over five nautical miles of ice to the Hodgeman Islands.

“Everyone on board was keen to make the journey across the fast ice to the Hodgeman Islands,” said one passenger.

A weather forecast predicted 25-35 knot winds reaching 40 knots late in the day.

“Despite the wind and extreme cold, the scenery on the journey was spectacular – it seemed unreal, as though we were on a movie set,” said the same passenger.

About 2.30pm the weather deteriorated. At the same time Captain Kiselev saw slabs of sea ice moving into the open water channel from which the ship had entered the area. He called for everyone to return.

A passenger standing near Professor Turney overheard the voyage leader, Greg Mortimer, telling him over the radio to bring passengers back to the ship so it can leave.

But minutes later, Professor Turney drove six more passengers into the field.

The overloaded vehicle had no space to collect returning passengers.

Failing to follow an instruction of the Captain would likely breach the terms of the charter agreement, since a term should be included which required the charterers to follow such instructions, and may be regarded as negligence on the part of the charterer.

In such circumstances, the insurer would seek to recover the losses from the party in breach – UNSW – who would no doubt seek to recover it from Chris Turney. Ouch.

If anyone has a copy of the charter party, please let me know.

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