It is a known fact that the Libyan people are still struggling to establish a strong central government in order to fulfill the hopes and aspirations that inspired the revolution of February 17, 2011.

At present, there are two parliaments and two governments claiming to be the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. To resolve the dispute, both the United Nations and the European Union are bringing the two sides to the negotiation table, hoping to establish one internationally recognized government to bring peace and security to Libya with the international community's support.

Libya's strategic location and its tremendous wealth give Libya an important status for the world, most notably to the EU.

Evidently, peace and economic development will soon come to Libya, leading to security and prosperity, not only in Libya but in the world, especially in Europe. Trade will flourish, and the part of the Mediterranean adjacent to Libyan ports shall be frequently visited by vessels. This leads our discussion to this article's topic, which discusses vessel collision as regulated by Libyan Maritime Law.

Although the effects of certain collisions may not lead to sinking, collisions may still cause adverse consequences, including but not limited to fires and explosions, loss of cargo and damage to the vessel, marine pollution, and death or injury sustained by individuals, such as members of the crew.

The collision's repercussions may cost those held liable, such as shipowners or insurance companies (P & I clubs) thousands, even millions of dollars in losses depending on the severity of the damage. One of the biggest concerns is how each party implicated will assume liability and how the loss will be allocated amongst the parties.

The purpose of this article is to address the legal issues surrounding fault and liability that may arise from a maritime collision that occurs within Libyan waters by using the applicable legislation, the Libyan Maritime Law of 1953.

The Libyan Maritime Law considers collisions as accidents that occur between vessels. Although a collision is commonly believed to require physical contact, the Libyan Maritime Law allows victims to recover from tortfeasors even if no physical contact has occurred.  One may cover for damage caused to the vessel, the goods or persons aboard the vessel by an act or failure to act or violation of navigation rules committed by another (Article 241 of Libyan Maritime Law).

In case of a "collision," as defined under the Libyan Maritime Law, persons or cargo aboard a ship involved in the collision or an innocent third party may recover for damages and losses suffered. However, the physical contact between vessels and structures, such as a bridge or dock, is not considered by the Libyan Maritime Law as a collision and constitutes a tortious liability.

For a collision to have occurred, the accident must have been caused by either a vessel's fault or force majeure or unidentified cause. The fault of a vessel is extremely important in determining the liability for damages. Suppose a court determines one vessel is at fault for the collision. In that case, the vessel owner will be held liable for paying damages to the successful claimant(s) (Art. 238 of Libyan Maritime Law).

In a case where a Court determines that both vessels are jointly at fault, then the court will accord liability to ships according to the amount of blame of each vessel (Art. 239 of the Libyan Maritime Law). Courts may be faced with the difficulty of determining the allocation of fault, such as when evidence is vague and does not permit the court to decide who is at greater fault. In a case where the fault of the vessels is difficult to determine, courts will find both vessels equally at fault.

Force majeure is the common term used in various jurisdictions to describe an unavoidable or irresistible force outside of either party's control, which causes a tort. Under maritime law, examples would be a hurricane or flood, which causes a collision between vessels. The Libyan Maritime Law stipulates that both parties are exempt from liability to each other in case of force majeure (Article 237 of Libyan Maritime Law). Instead, each party will be responsible for its own losses.

In terms of division of damages, Article 239 of the Libyan Maritime Law stipulates that if more than one vessel is at fault, liability will be assessed in proportion to their fault.  This means that each vessel will only be held liable for the damages to the degree of their liability.

If it is impossible to calculate each vessel's degree of fault, liability will be divided equally among the vessels involved. Each defaulting vessel will be severely proportionally liable for damages caused to other vessels, belongings of the crew, and passengers.

However, defaulting vessels will be jointly and severally liable for death or personal injury, meaning that the plaintiff can recover the entirety of the damages (Article 239 of the Libyan Maritime Law) from one of the defaulting vessels.

If such a vessel pays for damages exceeding its percentage of the fault, it is entitled to be reimbursed by other defaulting vessels for the amount paid more than its percentage of fault. Military and government vessels serving public interest are not subject to the previous rules of compensation (Article 244 of the Libyan Maritime Law).

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