Précis: The Federal Court considered s. 139 of the MLA but confirmed the priority of a mortgagee.
The “MCP Altona” was sold by judicial sale following a spill of yellowcake uranium in one of her holds. Following the spill, the plaintiff, the owner of the uranium cargo, arranged and paid for the discharge of the uranium cargo as well as other cargo on the ship and undertook remedial efforts to clean the ship. The plaintiff allegedly incurred expenses in excess of $8 million. The plaintiff sought priority to the proceeds of sale for these costs over the mortgagee of the vessel. The plaintiff argued that it should have priority on four grounds: 1. the discharge of the cargo and remediation of the ship were necessary to bring the ship to sale and those costs should enjoy a priority akin to marshal’s expenses; 2. the services it rendered to the vessel have the status of a maritime lien pursuant to s. 139 of the Marine Liability Act; 3. the services it rendered to the ship were in the nature of salvage services having a priority pursuant to the International Convention on Salvage, 1989; and 4. the court ought to exercise its equitable jurisdiction to alter the usual order of priorities in its favour.
Decision: The mortgagee has priority.
Held: The costs of discharging the cargo and cleaning the ship form part of the plaintiff’s claim against the ship owner and are not to be equated with marshal’s expenses. The plaintiff was not a volunteer but was acting under compulsion of law. With respect to s. 139 of the Marine Liability Act, which grants a maritime lien to Canadian suppliers of goods or services to a foreign ship, the goods or services must be supplied at the request of the shipowner. They were not so supplied. There was no contract with the shipowner. With respect to the claim for a salvage maritime lien, the law of salvage requires that the services be voluntary, the adventure be in danger at sea and the salvage efforts be successful. The International Convention on Salvage, 1989 did not alter the law of salvage other than in relation to compensation for protection of the environment. The ship was not in danger once she arrived at the port and the plaintiff was not acting as a volunteer. Finally, with respect to the equitable ranking of priorities, the thread which ties recent cases on equitable ranking together is unjust enrichment. The mortgagee did not lull the plaintiff into doing something it would not have done in any event. The plaintiff acted not as a volunteer but as it was required to do by law. There is no reason to change the usual priorities.