Limitation of shipowners’ liability and constitutional issues.

The issue of the compatibility of the limitation of shipowners’ liability with the Italian Constitution was raised in the context of proceedings before the Court of Appeal of Palermo. The proceedings concerned the limitation in respect of a ship with a gross tonnage of less than 300 t. and were therefore governed by artt. 275-276 of the Italian Code of Navigation (rather than Decree no. 111/2012, incorporating the limitation figures of the LLMC). The claimants argued that the relevant provisions of the Code of Navigation were in contrast with the Italian Constitution because i) there was an unreasonable reduction of the compensation payable to the injured parties, ii) there was no justification for the different treatment of ships with different tonnage, iii) the right to limitation would be lost in case of gross negligence or wilful misconduct of the owner only (and not also of his servants or agents). The Court of Appeal dismissed all the complaints and declined to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, stating that the provisions of the Code of Navigation on limitation of shipowners’ liability are a reasonable compromise between conflicting interests and, as such, in line with Italian Constitution.