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Del Rosario & Del Rosario
Shipping and the Law
Singapore Court upholds POEA Contract; dismisses Filipino
Ruben Del Rosario, Managing Partner, Del Rosario & Del Rosario, August 19, 2005
Seafarer was injured when a shard of metal hit his
right eye while repairing the accommodation ladder. He received medical treatment in Yangon.
Thereafter, he was repatriated
via Singapore. An operation was carried out on his eye in Manila.
November 2003, seafarer filed a Complaint in the NLRC claiming
US$80,000.00 as disability compensation.
However, on 30 December 2003, seafarer commenced an
admiralty action in Singapore
against owners for negligence and/or breach of contract or duty resulting in
his eye injury. On 15 January 2004, seafarer withdrew his
claim with the NLRC which was consequently dismissed “without prejudice”.
May 2004, the owners applied to have the action stayed (i.e.
dismissed). The Singapore Judge dismissed the
action based on forum non conveniens.
On appeal by the seafarer, the Singapore Court of
Appeal (highest court of the land) upheld the ruling of the Judge as follows:
1. The Singapore court was correct in
declining to exercise jurisdiction based on forum non conveniens
which means that “there is some
other available forum, having competent jurisdiction, which is more appropriate
for the trial of the action.” Although
NLRC is not strictly a court of law, the fact remains that
it is a forum competent to try the dispute in the Philippines.
2. When the
parties specify the governing law in the employment contract, said stipulation
should prevail. In this case, Section 31
of POEA Standard Employment Contract clearly provides that
any dispute or claim in connection with the contract shall be governed by the
laws of the Philippines. Further, the Court cited the decision of the United States
Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit in Rizalyn Bautista vs. Star
Cruises (“SS Norway” case) which held that
the POEA contract should govern as it provided for claims and disputes to be
submitted to the NLRC or arbitrators (Section 29). It also noted the POEA’s role in supervising,
regulating, promoting and monitoring overseas employment programs for the
purpose of ensuring the best terms and conditions of employment for Filipino
contract workers. Finally, it ruled that tort claims are covered by the phrase “claims
and disputes arising from this employment” under Section 29 of the POEA
contract considering that said
contract “obligates the shipowner to provide a seaworthy vessel and further
regulates the payment of sick pay, repatriation
and medical care.”
3. While it is
true that the shipowner did not sign
the seafarer’s POEA contract, the fact that
it was executed by the ship manager and local manning agent acting as
shipowner’s agents makes the POEA contract binding on the shipowner.
4. The clause
in the Hong Kong Merchant Shipping (Seafarers) Ordinance (“the Hong Kong
Agreement” executed by the seafarer) which states that
“Any terms and conditions of service annexed to this agreement should not be
less favorable than those under the provisions of the laws of Hong
Kong” cannot be construed as a jurisdiction or applicable law
clause. Said clause only indicates that there is a separate agreement annexed thereto
and its terms should not be less beneficial than what
Hong Kong law provides. This is an issue which the Court noted can be
passed upon by the competent forum in Manila (NLRC).
5. In general,
the Court considered the overwhelming connection of the case with the Philippines. First, the entire crew including subject
seafarer are Filipinos and reside in the Philippines. Second, medical witnesses will be from the Philippines. Third, the employment contract is governed by
Philippine laws which were enacted to protect its citizens who are serving on
foreign vessels. Fourth, the hearing of
the claim in the Philippines
will avoid the need of engaging an interpreter.
Fifth, a performance bond has been posted by the manning agents to the
Philippine authorities serving as security for the claim. Sixth, the shipowners have expressed
agreement to submit to jurisdiction of the Philippines. On the other hand, the case has no material
link to Singapore except the
fact that seafarer joined the vessel
in and was repatriated via Singapore
which are wholly irrelevant to the claim.
Paquito L. Buton vs. The Owners of the ship
or vessel “RAINBOW JOY”, Civil Appeal No. 116 of 2004, 20 July 2005,  SGCA 36 (Court of
Appeals of the Republic
Note: Mr. Yap Yin Soon of Allen &
Gledhill handled the case for vessel interests in Singapore. Attys. Charles Jay Dela Cruz and Ruben Del
Rosario of Del Rosario & Del Rosario assisted Allen & Gledhill by
rendering advice on Philippine laws.
T. Del Rosario is managing partner of Del Rosario & Del Rosario. He
is former president of the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines and
is currently president of the Philippine Maritime Voluntary Arbitrators Association.
Del Rosario is correspondent of several P & I Clubs.
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