Pollution Update: Shipowners Are Not Eligible to Claim Compensation From the SOPF For Own Damage

The backstory in Haida Tourism Limited Partnership (West Coast Resorts) v. Canada (Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund), 2022 FC 1249 is this: 
  • Haida Tourism owned the "Tasu I", a barge used as floating accommodations for recreational fishing guests; 
  • In 2008, the barge came loose from its moorings and went aground. It released gasoline and diesel into the environment; 
  • Haida Tourism incurred costs to prevent, repair, remedy or minimize potential oil pollution damage resulting from the grounding; 
  • It then made a claim to the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) for those costs; 
  • The SOPF denied Haida's claim. Haida appealed to the Federal Court. 
The question before the Federal Court was whether Haida Tourism, as owner of the barge, could make a claim against the SOPF when it was the owner of the only ship involved in the incident. 

For context, the SOPF is a fund for oil pollution damage. Members of the public who incur costs preventing or remedying oil pollution damage can make a claim against the SOPF for their costs. The SOPF, upon paying a claim, can then launch a subrogated claim against the shipowner which caused the pollution damage. 

In this case, Haida's position was that it was entitled to make a claim against the SOPF because although the oil pollution emanated from its own vessel, it wasn't liable for it (it argued it was caused by trespassers).

In contrast, the SOPF argued that liability for oil pollution is strict, and because a shipowner cannot be liable to itself, it cannot incur costs and expenses that are recoverable from the SOPF. 

Justice Southcott ultimately sided with the SOPF, stating that: 

[56] For the reasons that follow, I find that the Administrator was correct in its interpretation of subsection 103(1) of the MLA; that is, shipowners are not eligible to claim compensation from the SOPF under subsection 103(1) where they are the owner of the only ship involved in an incident. Accordingly, the Administrator was also correct in denying Haida’s claim.

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