Widow of man who died in ship-breakers can claim against UK company

A Bangladeshi woman whose husband, Khalil Mollah, 32, fell to his death on March30th 2018 while working on a tanker called the EKTA in the port city of Chattogram in south-eastern Bangladesh in 2018 can file a negligence claim against a UK company involved in the vessel’s sale, the High Court in London has ruled.

UK lawyers representing his widow, Hamida Begum, argue that Maran (UK) Ltd was responsible for the ship ending up in Bangladesh, where working conditions in ship-breaking yards were known to be dangerous.

The court’s judgment, under Mr Justice Jay, read that “the proximate cause of the accident was the deceased’s fall from a height, but on a broader, purposive approach the accident resulted from a chain of events which led to the vessel being grounded at Chattogram”.

The ruling denied an application filed by Maran earlier this year to have Begum’s claim struck out.

The EKTA, formerly the Maran Centaurus, had been owned and managed by companies belonging to the Angelicoussis Shipping Group, which included Maran (UK) Ltd, according to details from the judgement. The ruling said that, rather than deal directly with ship-breakers, it had been standard practice for decades for ship-owners to act through brokers or intermediaries. The Maran Centaurus was sold for demolition in an August 2017 deal worth more than $16m.

It is alleged that the sale price was a clear indication that the tanker was destined for Chattogram, and Maran (UK) Ltd would have known this.

Most companies sell ships to cash buyers, many of which are closely linked to beach yards where unsafe working practices are common, Shipbreaking Platform said in a recent report.

Mr Justice Jay accepted that more than 70% of vessels that had reached the end of their operating lives in the past 10 years had been broken up using the “beaching” method in SE Asia.

However, he said: “[The defendant argued that] given that nearly all vessels ended up in South Asia, it could not be said that [Maran UK Ltd] were deviating from standard practice. I reject that submission on the straightforward basis that if standard practice was inherently dangerous, it cannot be condoned as sound and rational even though almost everybody does the same.”

Oliver Holland, a partner at the Leigh Day law firm representing Begum, said that trend could change if Maran (UK) is made to accept that it owed Begum’s husband a duty of care.