The affordable education loan option
Cape Town - The owners of a R70-million cargo of rice have gone to court to find out what happened aboard the Kiani Satu, which sank off Knysna.
The ship ran aground between Buffels Bay and Sedgefield on August 8.
It was later towed to deep waters and sank in the early hours of Wednesday.
On board was 15 000 metric tons of rice - worth just over $6.9-million, or about R70m - which was being transported from Vietnam to Ghana. The cargo went down with it.
In the Western Cape High Court on Friday, Judge Willem Louw heard an application by the owners of the cargo in which they seek to preserve and obtain documents, as well as the evidence of the ship’s master and crew.
This information, they claim, was “vital” in determining how the vessel’s engine broke down, why it could not be towed and the circumstances around its subsequent sinking. They are to use the information in arbitration proceedings in London to claim for their lost cargo.
The owner of the ship, meanwhile, has filed for insolvency in Germany.
Advocate Michael Wragge, SC, acting for the cargo owners, told the court that his clients feared that if the evidence was not preserved, it would be lost. He argued that there were exceptional circumstances that warranted a court order in their favour.
Among them was that there had been no explanation of the circumstances in which R70m in cargo had sunk, that there was little evidence that would determine what had caused the engine breakdown and subsequent events, that the master and crew were all from foreign countries - including Montenegro, Venezuela, the Ukraine and the Philippines - which meant their attendance at the arbitration proceedings in order to give their evidence was not guaranteed and that there had been a “lack of co-operation” on the part of the respondents.
The respondents who were represented in court on Friday were the owner of the Kiani Satu, the vessel’s insurers and a local representative of one of the insurers.
Wragge contended that representatives of the cargo owners, wanting to investigate for themselves, were prevented from boarding the vessel from the initial engine breakdown up until her sinking.
But advocate Michael Fitzgerald, SC, for the respondents, argued that no exceptional circumstances existed because it had to relate to the actual evidence the applicants were seeking to preserve, not the circumstances that gave rise to the alleged claim, such as the sinking and the insolvency.
He also denied that there had been “obstructive” behaviour on the respondents’ part, or that the fact that the crew was foreign constituted an exceptional circumstance as the crews in shipping cases were often foreign.
Fitzgerald further contended that the documents the cargo owners wanted weren’t material, saying that even if they were admissible at the arbitration proceedings, they would have “very little probative value”.
Judge Louw is yet to give judgment.