Southport Corporation v Esso Petroleum Company Ltd (Inverpool.)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
Judgment Date03 June 1954
Judgment citation (vLex)[1954] EWCA Civ J0603-3
Docket Number1951 S. No. 3864.
Date03 June 1954

[1954] EWCA Civ J0603-3

In the Supreme Court of Judicature,

Court of Appeal.


Lord Justice Singleton,

Lord Justice Denning, and

Lord Justice Morris.

1951 S. No. 3864.
The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the County Borough of Southport
Esso Petroleum Company, Ltd., and George Mcmeakin.

Counsel for the Appellants: MR K.S. CARPMAEL, Q.C., and MR A.E. BAUCHER, instructed by Messrs Sharpe Pritchard & Co., Agents for Mr R. Edgar Perrins, Town Clerk, Southport.

Counsel for the Respondents: MR H.I. NELSON, Q.C., and MR G.B.H. CURRIE, instructed by Messrs Thomas Cooper & co.


This case concern a small tanker called the "Inverpool" belonging to the Defendant Company, which stranded in the Ribble estuary on the 3rd December, 1950; and the master, in order to float her, discharged about 400 tons of fuel oil. The oil became deposited on the foreshore which belongs to the plaintiffs, the Southport Corporation, and entered the Marine Lake, a feature of the foreshore. The deposit extended for a distance of about 7 1/2 miles, and varied in thickness from 1 inch to 3 inches, and in width from 3 ft. to 20 ft, at one point amounting to 100 ft. It became necessary to close the Marine lake for a time and also parts of the foreshore, and it has cost the Corporation a substantial sum to make good the damage.


The corporation claimed damage against the owners and master of the tanker. They alleged that the deposit of oil on their property constituted a nuisance, or was a trespass, and further, that there was negligence.


Mr Justice Devlin gave judgment in favour of the Defendants, and the plaintiffs appeal of the court.


I take the following statement of facts from the judgment of Mr Justice Devlin; "The 'Inverpool' is a steam tanker of 680 tons gross, 169 feet in length and 31 in beam. The engine is aft. Her master, Mr McMeakin, and her chief engineer, Mr Mackintosh, are both experienced seamen, and she was manned by a crow of 11 hands all told. She left Liverpool at 7.30 on 3rd December, 1950, with a cargo of 736 tons of heavy fuel oil. She has three tanks and her total capacity is 800 tons. She carried about 120 tons only in her No. 1 tank forward, and the other two tanks were full. Her draft forward was 9' 10" and aft 14' 10". She arrived at the Nelson Buoy at 11.40 and waited there for the tide: high water at Preston was at17.17. She left the Nelson Buoy at 14.30, the weather then being clear, wind N.N.W. force 7 or 8, and a moderately rough sea. At about 14.45 when she was between the Gut Buoy and the Wall End Buoy she shipped two or three very heavy seas over the port quarter and engine room. Up to that time she had been behaving normally in every way, and almost immediately after that, the master says, the steering without any apparent cause became very, erratic and she began sheering four to five points to starboard and to port. The engineer describes her as lurching badly, sliding from side to side. The master said the weather made it impossible to put a man along the deck to find out what was wrong with the steering gear. He asked the engineer to increase the pressure to the steering. The Easter continued on his course with some anxiety. At 15.05, when the ship was about halfway between Wall End Buoy and Salter's Buoy, the engineer felt two violent blows on the propeller (metal hitting metal it sounded like) which he reported to the master. The ship was then, the master says, in mid-channel, and he did not think she had touched anything. The channel at this part is about 600 feet wide. On the south side there is a revetment wall about 7 or 8 feet in width and of a height varying from 3 to 6 feet above datum. At this time there would be about 14 or 15 feet of water at Salter's Buoy, so that there was 8 to 12 feet of water over the wall. When the 'Inverpool' had passed Salter's Buoy – about half a mile, the master says, though the Plaintiffs contend she had hardly passed it – she took a heavy sheer to starboard which could not be corrected and she ran aground on the revetment wall. It was then 15.15. She lay at right angles across the wall, about 30 feet of her length being over the other side of it while her stern was still afloat in the channel.The master did the obvious and natural thing and ordered the engines full astern so as to back her off into the channel. Immediately the engines went astern, it was found that the propeller was fouling some hard object; there was the same noise as before. There was such vibration that the engineer feared the main steam pipe might fracture with the danger of scalding the engine crew. After a few minutes he reported this to the master, who told him he could stop. The master then regarded the position of his ship as extremely precarious. She was pounding on the Wall and straining heavily. He thought she was in serious danger of breaking her back with probable loss of life as well as of the ship herself. Of course, she was on a rising tide, and there was a chanoe, great or small, that the water would lift her off. If the tide made to the predicted height (and in fact it was an inch over) there would be 6 or 7 feet more water under the vessel within the next two hours. But the tide and the wind were pushing her on to the wall, and that would probably mean that she could not got off except by getting right over. The water would therefore have to rice enough to get her stern over, and her stern was drawing 14' 10". If the height of the wall where she was across it was, say, 5 feet, high tide would give her a theoretical clearance of about 1 foot. If the height was 6 or 7 feet, as the master rightly or wrongly thought, the tide would not get her off. If it did not, her position bumping on a falling tide with her head and stern unsupported would be disastrous. I do not think that the master made any precise calculations. His instinct was to get off as quickly as he could and the obvious way to do that was to lighten her. He had no relish for waiting about doing nothing to see if the tide would rescue him. At 15.25 therefore he began discharging No. 1 tank.There was some suggestion that he lightened her forward first with the idea of putting her further down by the stern and thus inducing her to slide back into the channel. In fact he had to discharge that tank first because it was slack, and I do not think he was concerned about which way she came off so long as he got her off. The discharge of No. 1 was completed at 16.05 without getting the ship off the wall. At 16.15 he began on No. 3 tank, and when that was completed he had discharged rather over 400 tons and raised the ship about 3 1/2foot. At 17.30 she bounced along the wall (to use the master's description) and went off it, coming to rest on a bank of sand. A survey report made later showed quite considerable hull damage which the ship must have sustained either on the wall or on the hard sand. The report showed also that the stern frame was very badly bent and fractured in two places, that one blade of the propeller was completely broken off and the other three blades broken at the tip."


I add this in order to make clear what the weather conditions were. The matter of the "Inverpool" said that when he left the Nelson Buoy he was quite happy about going in. There were two other vessels near her, both of which made the journey up the channel to Preston. One was the "Esso Suwannee", a motor tanker belonging to the Defendant Company. Her master, who gave evidence for the Defendants, said: "They (the conditions) were not too good. The wind was blowing from the Nor West and there was a fairly big sea … I thought the passage was quite negotiable. There was a bit of wind and you had to keep her up to the wind when going past the buoys …" Ho agreed (at page 123) "not an unusually bad weather afternoon but more than normal." The other vessel was the "Olydebrae", whose master was called on behalf ofthe Defendants. He said that when he left the Nelson Buoy soon after the "Inverpool" left, it was blowing a moderate gale and it was a pretty rough sea. In cross-examination he said it was the kind of weather you would frequently experience whether entering Preston or elsewhere.


The Plaintiffs alleged that the master of the "Inverpool" was guilty of negligent navigation in several respects, including (a) in entering the channel when the steering was erratic and the helm could not be got over and was slow to move; (aa) in that the tanker was caused to strike the revetment wall; (o) in that he caused about 400 tons of oil to be discharged overboard. The learned Judge rejected this part of the plaintiffs' case. He came to the conclusion that it was a defect in the steering gear which caused the vessel to get out of control and which led to her coming upon the wall. He added: "The remaining point is much more difficult, because it has not proved possible to arrive at any clear conclusion as to what caused the defeat in steering. It remains, the master said, a puzzle and a mystery to him. The Plaintiffs say therefore that the Defendants have failed to prove that they were not responsible for the loss. I approach the problem by considering first what relevant damage was found on the ship at her survey. The propeller blades were broken and so was the stern frame. If the stern frame was fractured or even cracked, it would be quite enough to account for the ship's behavior. Is there sufficient evidence to support the inference that the stern frame was fractured before the vessel stranded? I think on the whole that there is. The damage could of course have been done as she was crossing the wall or afterwards on the sand. But if I accept, as I do, the engineer's be evidence of the propeller fouling on twoOccasions when the stern was still afloat, first between Wall End Buoy and Salter's Buoy, and secondly just after the stranding, it points to the...

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  • Sidestepping limited liability in corporate groups using the tort of interference with contract.
    • Australia
    • Melbourne University Law Review Vol. 30 Nbr. 1, April 2006
    • 1 Abril 2006
    ...from a ship did not amount to a direct interference with land when the tide carried the oil ashore: Southport Co v Esso Petroleum Co Ltd [1954] 2 QB 182. However, an action did lie where a party piled rubbish near another's land in circumstances where it dried and rolled onto that land: Gre......

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