Smith Bell and Company Phils. v. CA (G.R. No. L-56294)

Facts:

M/V “Don Carlos,” an inter-island vessel owned and operated by private respondent Go Thong was sailing south bound for Cebu, when it collided with M/S “Yotai Maru,” a merchant vessel of Japanese registry which was approaching the port of Manila coming in from Kobe, Japan. The bow of the “Don Carlos” rammed the left side of the “Yotai Maru” inflicting a gaping hole through which seawater rushed in and flooded the hatch, damaging all the cargo stowed therein. The consignees of the damaged cargo having been paid by their insurance companies, the latter in turn commenced actions against private respondent Go Thong for damages sustained by the various shipments. 2 cases were filed before the RTC. The first case (Smith Bell and Sumitomo Insurance v. Go Thong) reached the SC which ruled in finality that negligence was with the officers and crew of “Don Carlos.” On the contrary, the second case (Smith Bell and Tokyo Insurance v. Go Thong) was decided by the CA holding the officers and crew of “Yotai Maru” at fault in the collision. Hence the present petition.

Issue:

Whether or not inscrutable fault is present in said collision.

Ruling: NO.

The Court believes that there are three (3) principal factors which are constitutive of negligence on the part of the “Don Carlos,” which negligence was the proximate cause of the collision.

(1) The first of these factors was the failure of the “Don Carlos” to comply with the requirements of Rule 18 (a) of the International Rules of the Road which provides as follows: (a) When two power-driven vessels are meeting end on, or nearly end on, so as to involve risk of collision, each shall alter her course to starboard, so that each may pass on the port side of the other. The evidence on this factor state that “Don Carlos” altered its course by five degrees to the left instead of to the right which maneuver was the error that caused the collision in question. Why it did so is because “Don Carlos” was overtaking another vessel, the “Don Francisco”, and was then at the right side of the aforesaid vessel. It was in the process of overtaking “Don Francisco” that “Don Carlos” was finally brought into a situation where he was meeting end-on or nearly end-on “Yotai Maru, thus involving risk of collision.

(2) The second circumstance constitutive of negligence on the part of the “Don Carlos” was its failure to have on board that night a “proper look-out” as required by Rule I (B) Under Rule 29 of the same set of Rules, all consequences arising from the failure of the “Don Carlos” to keep a “proper look-out” must be borne by the “Don Carlos.” In the case at bar, the failure of the “Don Carlos” to recognize in a timely manner the risk of collision with the “Yotai Maru” coming in from the opposite direction, was at least in part due to the failure of the “Don Carlos” to maintain a proper look-out.

(3) The third factor constitutive of negligence on the part of the “Don Carlos” relates to the fact that Second Mate Benito German was, immediately before and during the collision, in command of the “Don Carlos.” Second Mate German simply did not have the level of experience, judgment and skill essential for recognizing and coping with the risk of collision as it presented itself that early morning when the “Don Carlos,” running at maximum speed and having just overtaken the “Don Francisco” then approximately one mile behind to the right side of the “Don Carlos,” found itself head-on or nearly head on vis-a-vis the “Yotai Maru. ” It is essential to point out that this situation was created by the “Don Carlos” itself.

FOR ALL THE FOREGOING, the Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

*Inscrutable Fault – where it cannot be determined which of the 2 vessels caused the collision, each vessel shall suffer its own damages, and both shall be solidarily responsible for the losses and damages occasioned to their cargoes.

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