Ship ‘Federal Huron’ v Ok Tedi Mining Ltd [1986] PGSC 9; [1986] PNGLR 5 (20 January 1986)

ADMIRALTY – jurisdiction of PNG courts since Independence

The plaintiff was the owner and consignee of cargo which was shipped from the United
States to Papua New Guinea. The cargo was damaged on unloading and the plaintiff
sued for damages. The ship was arrested under a warrant of arrest in rem. One of the
grounds of the defence was that the Statement of Claim did not disclose a cause of action
known to the law of Papua New Guinea, and this ground was argued before the trial
judge as a preliminary point. The trial judge decided in favour of the plaintiff holding
that whereas the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act 1890 (Imp) ceased to operate in Papua
New Guinea in 1975 at Independence, the court was able to formulate a law pursuant to
the Constitution, Sch 2.3(1) allowing the action. The decision was appealed. The
appellant did not contest the finding that there was no longer Admiralty jurisdictions in
Papua New Guinea other than a common law jurisdiction, and appealed the contention
that the action could be based on any statutory right in rem. The respondent’s case rested
on the statutory right stemming from the Admiralty Court Act 1861 (Imp) through the
Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, s. 6 which created an in rem action for damage to
goods by the shipper.
DECISION: appeal dismissed. Since Independence the courts of Papua New Guinea
have had an Admiralty jurisdiction within the parameters and limitations set down in the
Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act 1890.
HELD: The Appeal Court makes an exhaustive examination historical analysis of the
jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court in Papua New Guinea. In doing so the Court
discovered that in Papua the 1861 Admiralty Court Acts were not brought into operation
after Independence so that the common law remained unmodified; conversely in the
Mandated Territory of New Guinea the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act was preserved
after Independence by s. 14 of Laws Repeal and Adopting Act 1921. The anomalous
result was that the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act was introduced to the new
Independent State for part of the country only. The Court was able to utilize Sch. 2.3 of
the Constitution to make the application of the Act applicable to the whole of Papua New
Guinea. This decision by the Court of Appeal put to rest the conflicting authorities as to
Admiralty jurisdiction that had been created by earlier cases.

Steamships Trading Company Ltd v Owners of the Ship ‘Samarai’ [1988] PGNC 99;
[1988-89] PNGLR 80 (28 February 1989)

ADMIRALTY- Jurisdiction- Supply of necessaries- no jurisdiction where supply of goods to domestic ship

This was an application by the ship owners seeking an order that the writ of summons discloses no reasonable cause of action recognized by the admiralty jurisdiction of the court. The applicant argued that the jurisdiction of the National Court in admiralty
proceedings does not extend to actions based on supply of goods and materials where the ship is domestic.
HELD: Writ of summons struck out and arrest warrant set aside.
DECISION: The Admiralty Court Act 1840 created a cause of action for the supply of
necessaries for a foreign ship. The jurisdiction in admiralty for the supply of goods and
services to a domestic ship was not introduced in England until 1956 and that is not part of the law of PNG.

Weilbacher v Kosrae [1988] FMKSC 10; 3 FSM Intrm. 320 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1988) (19 April 1988)

ADMIRALTY- Jurisdiction- Classification of maritime tort for jurisdictional purposes

The plaintiff was a passenger on a State owned vessel. She was injured on a voyage on
that vessel and sought compensation claiming that the State was negligent in not
maintaining adequate lighting on the vessel, and in not securing the restroom door. The
plaintiff also claimed that the State had breached its contract with her to provide safe and
seaworthy transportation. Suit was brought in Kosrae state, and the defendant brought a
motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
DECISION: Motion to dismiss granted.
HELD: The case would properly be considered a maritime matter within the Supreme
Court’s admiralty tort jurisdiction, and therefore the State court is without jurisdiction to
hear this matter. Article XI s. 6(a) of the FSM Constitution provides that the Supreme
Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction in admiralty and maritime cases. There
were a number of bases on which to classify this action as a maritime tort: The injury
occurred on a vessel which was 30 miles out to sea and thus in ‘navigable waters’. The
injury occurred during the course of a traditional maritime activity. There may have been
an admiralty contract involved in the contract for passage.