IMO set to improve ship passengers' liability and compensation regime

Compulsory insurance for passengers on ships will become international law under the proposed revision to the Athens Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974, set to be adopted at a diplomatic conference being held from 21 October to 1 November at IMO headquarters in London.

The proposed amendments to the Convention are contained in a draft Protocol to the Athens Convention. The draft Protocol introduces, among other things, the requirement of compulsory insurance for passenger claims, and proposes changes to the fault-based liability system, introducing the concepts of strict liability and reverse burden of proof in certain circumstances, and makes a distinction between shipping-related and non-shipping incidents.

The limits of liability are expected to be raised significantly under the draft Protocol, to reflect present day conditions and the mechanism for raising limits in the future will be made easier.

The successful adoption of the Protocol will ensure that all passengers likely to be affected by a shipping incident will receive prompt and adequate compensation, based on internationally acceptable criteria.


The Athens Convention of 1974 was designed to consolidate and harmonize two earlier Brussels Conventions dealing with passengers and their luggage and adopted in 1961 and 1967, respectively.
The Convention establishes 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.
However, unless the carrier acted with intent to cause such damage, or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably result, he can limit his liability. For the death of, or personal injury to, a passenger, this limit of liability is set at 46,666 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) (about US$61,100) per carriage.

As far as loss of or damage to luggage is concerned, the carrier's limit of liability varies, depending on whether the loss or damage occurred in respect of cabin luggage, of a vehicle and/or luggage carried in or on it, or in respect of other luggage.

The Convention has been in force since 1987. At present, 28 States are party to it.

The International Conference on the Revision of the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974) opens on Monday 21 October and continues on Friday 25 October through to Friday 1 November, following the 85th session of the IMO Legal Committee which meets meet from Tuesday 22 to Thursday 24 October (see briefing 30/2002).


IMO - the International Maritime Organization - is the United Nations Specialized Agency with responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

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