Liability for incidents with dangerous goods originating from inland vessels

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The aim of this contribution is to explore the likely legal implications for the various parties involved if a serious incident with an inland vessel carrying a dangerous cargo were to occur, e.g. an explosion of the dangerous substance or a spillage thereof from an inland vessel somewhere on the river Rhine, perhaps in Germany or the Netherlands or near the border between these countries. However, regulatory aspects of transport of dangerous goods by inland waterways and the classification of dangerous goods16 falls outside the scope of this contribution. The incident may have been caused by a collision with another inland vessel or the inland vessel unilaterally colliding with a bridge pillar or the doors of a lock. Furthermore it is presumed that the chemical substance is of a very toxic, explosive and flammable nature and thus very dangerous to human and animal life even in smaller doses as well as a threat to the environment if spilled from an inland vessel. The incident causes death and serious injuries to persons both on board the vessels and in the immediate vicinity of the incident, as well as environmental damage and substantial clean-up costs. Finally, both the local authorities and the manufacturer of the dangerous are obliged to order extensive preventive measures to be taken in order to contain the polluted surface waters and to prevent the pollutant from flowing downriver and from spreading all over the Rhine delta. Obviously the above incident can give rise to a multitude of liability claims for a variety of heads of damage against various possibly liable parties. One of the first questions to arise is which court(s) have jurisdiction to hear these claims (§ 3) and whether it is possible in the interest of a swift and sound administration of justice to concentrate or consolidate these proceedings before a single court. The next issue that needs to be resolved is to determine the applicable law(s) to the various liability claims (§ 4). After this, the alternative grounds upon which civil and other liability for the dangerous goods incident may be based are looked into (§ 5). This is followed by a brief discussion of the possibility of limitation of liability in case of an incident with dangerous goods ori- ginating from an inland vessel (§ 6). This contribution concludes with some final observations (in § 7). As will become evident below, the above dangerous substances incident gives rise to a range of legal questions which are governed by a variety of international legal instruments as well as national laws. In the latter case, the author chooses to limit the discussion to comparisons between German and Dutch law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFestschrift Resi Hacksteiner - A voyage through the law of Inland Shipping
EditorsF.G.M. Smeele
Place of PublicationThe Hague
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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