Holman forces Yemen government to back down over pollution claim

A campaign of political, diplomatic and legal pressure instigated by shipping specialists Holman Fenwick & Willan has resulted in the Yemen government backing down over its $18.5m (£11.8m) claim against the owners of the Belgium ship attacked off Yemen by terrorists in October

The dispute arose over the Yemen Minister of Shipping's decision to seek compensation for pollution caused by the attack on VLCC Limburg. Holman acted for the ship owner, Belgium's CMB Group.

Holman argued that Yemen is a signatory to the Civil Liability Convention (CLC) in relation to oil pollution from tankers. This exempts shipowners from paying compensation if the pollution is caused by a malicious act by a third party. However, the Yemen government said that the CLC was superseded by local law, placing strict liability on the polluter.

The eight-partner Holman team, headed by James Gosling, used its contacts in the London insurance and shipping market to lobby Yemenis in an effort to force the government to withdraw its claim. It was also instrumental in convincing the French President to make representations to his Yemeni equivalent on behalf of CMB. Other options considered, but not undertaken, included arresting Yemeni aircraft at international airports, as well as litigation.

Yemen's backdown means that CMB is only liable for a nominal gift payment for pollution damage. Further pollution claims by people directly affected by the pollution will be handled by Yemen. Meanwhile, the damaged vessel has been released from Yemeni control and is en route to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates to offload some 42,000 tons of crude oil.

Gosling said the matter is 95 per cent resolved, but Holman is “actively looking at other forms of recourse” in relation to at least two other related matters.