Liability of carriers of passengers by sea in the European Union
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. In 1974 the IMO adopted the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea which entered into force in 1987.
The Convention established a regime of liability for damage suffered by passengers carried on a seagoing vessel. It declares a carrier liable for damage or loss suffered by a passenger if the incident causing the damage occurred in the course of the carriage and was due to the fault or neglect of the carrier.
In 2002 a Protocol to amend the Athens Convention was adopted which introduced compulsory insurance to cover passengers on ships and raised the limits on liability. In 2006 the Legal Committee of the IMO adopted guidelines for the implementation of the amended Athens Convention. The 2006 Guidelines includes wording for a reservation that allows the limitation of liability for claims in respect of war or terrorism. The 2002 Protocol came into force in April 2014 and with respect to Ireland on 7 November 2014.
The liability limits are set in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which is a mix of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The current value of an SDR in euro is available on the IMF's website.
COVID-19 (coronavirus) and travel rights
Regulation 392/2009 on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea in the event of accidents applies in all European Union (EU) and EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) member states. The Regulation lays down a regime of liability and insurance for the carriage of passengers by sea, based on:
- The Athens Convention as amended by the 2002 Protocol and
- The IMO 2006 Guidelines
The Regulation applies to all international voyages where:
- The ship is flying the flag of or is registered in a member state or
- The contract of carriage has been signed in a member state or
- The place of departure or destination, according to the contract of carriage, is situated within a member state
The Regulation also applies to certain categories of passenger ships engaged in domestic seagoing voyages. A member state can defer application of the Regulation to such ships for at least 4 years. It may also apply it to all domestic sea-going voyages.
Death or injury to passengers
Where loss is suffered as a result of the death of or personal injury to a passenger caused by a shipping incident the carrier is strictly liable up to 250,000 SDRs. A shipping incident is a shipwreck, capsizing, collision or stranding of the ship, explosion or fire in the ship, or defect in the ship. If the loss or damage is more than 250,000 SDRs, the carrier is further liable up to a limit of 400,000 SDRs unless the carrier can prove it was not at fault.
If the loss is not as a result of a shipping incident, the carrier is liable up to a limit of 400,000 SDRs, if the claimant can prove fault or negligence on the part of the carrier. The carrier and passenger may agree to a higher limit.
If the loss suffered is the result of war or terrorism, liability is limited to the lower of 250,000 SDRs per passenger or 340 million SDRs per ship.
Where a death or personal injury is caused by a shipping incident, the carrier must make an advance payment within 15 days to cover immediate economic needs, proportionate to the damages suffered. In the case of a death the minimum payment is €21,000. The advance payment is not an admission of liability.
Luggage and vehicles
The carrier is liable for the loss of or damage to cabin luggage where the loss is due to the fault or neglect of the carrier. The fault or neglect of the carrier is presumed in the case of a shipping incident. The carrier’s liability for cabin luggage is limited to 2,250 SDRs per passenger.
The carrier is presumed liable for the loss of or damage to luggage other than cabin luggage unless the carrier can prove that the loss is not due to the fault or neglect of the carrier. The carrier’s liability is limited as follows:
- For the loss of or damage to vehicles including all luggage carried in or on the vehicle the limit is 12,700 SDRs per vehicle
- For the loss of or damage to other luggage the limit is 3,375 SDRs per passenger
The carrier and the passenger may agree to set higher liability limits. The carrier and the passenger may also agree that the liability of the carrier will be subject to a deductible that will be deducted from the compensation. The deductible cannot exceed:
- In the case of damage to a vehicle - 330 SDRs
- In the case of loss of or damage to other luggage - 149 SDRs per passenger
The carrier is not liable for the loss of or damage to monies, jewellery, works of art, or other valuables, unless they have been deposited with the carrier for safe-keeping. If they have been deposited, the limit of 3,375 SDRs per passenger apply.
Loss or damage to mobility equipment
The carrier is liable for the loss of or damage to mobility equipment, or other specific equipment used by a passenger with reduced mobility, where the loss is due to the fault or neglect of the carrier. The fault or neglect of the carrier is presumed in the case of a shipping incident. The passenger is entitled to the replacement value of the equipment concerned or, where applicable, the cost of repair.
Ships licensed to carry more than 12 passengers are required to have insurance in place or some other form of financial security to cover liabilities up to 250,000 SDRs per passenger. For war and terrorism insurance the cover is limited to the lower of 250,000 SDRs per passenger or 340 million SDRs per ship. A claim for compensation may be brought directly against the insurer.
Information for passengers
The carrier must ensure that passengers are informed clearly and precisely of their rights under this Regulation. The information must be provided in the most appropriate format:
- At all points of sale, including by telephone and via the Internet where the contract of carriage is signed in a member state
- Prior to departure where the place of departure is in a member state
- Upon departure in all other cases
How to apply
You must give written notice to the carrier of loss or damage to luggage which is apparent:
- Before or at the time of disembarkation of the passenger for cabin luggage
- Before or at the time of its re-delivery for all other luggage
Where the damage to or loss of luggage is not apparent, written notice must be given within 15 days from the date of disembarkation or re-delivery or from the time when such re-delivery should have taken place.
There is no need to give notice in writing if the condition of the luggage was the subject of joint inspection when you received it.
Any court action to claim compensation arising out of the death of or personal injury to a passenger or for the loss of or damage to luggage must be taken within 2 years.