Norovirus’ Implications for Shipowners

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

November 2, 2015

Allegations of illnesses caused by being on board a ship can lead to significant costs for shipowners. UK P&I Club Senior Claims Executive Victoria Brown reviews shipowners’ liabilities and the implications of a recent court case on future claims.

Claims from passengers alleging that they have contracted gastric illness whilst on Members’ ships are common, and defending them requires significant amounts of documentation to establish that proper procedures were followed to prevent the occurrence and spread of infection, along with evidence that the illness was not caused by any fault on the part of the ship or its crew. Consequently, members have often ended up settling these types of claims.

One method that has been used to defend such claims, or as a bargaining tool in settlement negotiations, is to argue that the illnesses were not bacterial but viral, and therefore unrelated to a lack of hygiene or food safety. Norovirus is a highly contagious viral infection that can flourish in the closed environment of a passenger ship. Evidence that a gastric illness is norovirus, rather than a food-borne bacterial infection, puts a ship owner on far stronger ground to argue that the illness was not due to any failing on its part. 

A recent case – Nolan – v – TUI UK Ltd - has demonstrated recognition by the courts that the owners and operators of passenger ships are not liable for norovirus outbreaks, provided the industry standard procedures to prevent illness outbreaks have been followed, and the necessary measures are taken to manage and contain illness. 

Hill Dickinson Solicitors acted for the defendants throughout. Maria Pittordis, partner and business group leader of the Marine, Trade and Energy Department, commented that the claim is the first of its type to be successfully defended at trial in the U.K., and is of great importance to the cruise industry in recognizing that norovirus is not caused by the ship, and that even with high levels of implementation of industry procedures, outbreaks do occur.

About the author
Victoria Brown is Senior Claims Executive at UK P&I Club.

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