Vessel master’s criminal liability – water transport offence

LKOS Law Office represented the master in a criminal matter where prosecutor sought criminal liability to the masters due to a collision of vessels. The Maritime Court handed down a judgement where all criminal charges against the masters where rejected. The judgement has come into legal force.


In our earlier update we have reviewed the matter as we made several successful procedural claims regarding i.e. jurisdiction and applicable law in the case (for further details please see “Our team succeeds in a maritime case”).


In the matter two fishing vessels where trawling when one of the fishing vessels collided with a yacht. The fishing vessels were attached to each other by surface cable. The fishing vessels were said to be partly on the fairway when the collision occurred. At the time of accident the sun was still up and weather as well as visibility was good. The fishing vessels where marked as required under applicable Finnish law. From the opposing direction the yacht approached the fishing vessels. Therefore, the situation was seen as head-to-head encounter.

The fishing vessels monitored the yacht’s approach by radar and waited the yacht’s manoeuvres to change course to side-to-side passing. However, the yacht never changed its course and was heading between trawling vessels. At the last moment the fishing vessels with limited manoeuvrable possibilities changed course but a collision occurred between the yacht and one of the fishing vessels. In the matter no personal injuries occurred.

Furthermore, during preliminary investigation the prosecutor dismissed all criminal charges against the yacht’s captain. Therefore, only the fishing vessels captains were accused of breaching rule of the road rules applicable on inland waters.

Relevant factors

The Maritime Court found that the masters of the fishing vessels were not liable of the collision or liable to omission. However, the court stated that the liable for omission has been the yacht’s captain.

The court reasoned that in the matter relevant was that the fishing vessels were marked as required. Under the rules of Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, which is applicable to Finnish inland waters, regulates i.e. which vessel must give way to another vessels and how vessels must be marked.

The Maritime Court found that the main principle being that vessel which manoeuvrability is more restricted can keep its course e.g. engine manoeuvrable yachts must give a way to fishing vessels conducting fishing. In this matter trawling fishing vessels’ manoeuvrability was more restricted and therefore, under the argumentation of the court, they hadright to keep their course and therefore they could expect that the yacht firstly changes its course. Further the court confirmed that the fishing vessels’ captains acted as the rule of the road enacts and followed due care to avoid danger and damage.


The Maritime Court’s decision is in line with applicable international rules regarding preventing collisions at sea. Outcome of the matter confirms that at sea/Finnish inland waters international conventions apply and therefore one must be aware of them even if you would be a “Sunday sailor”. It is of essence to follow rules of preventing collisions at sea when vessels are on head-to-head course, passing by on a close by course as well as mark vessels as required. Furthermore, it is of essence to be aware of Finnish Maritime Code and international conventions should you consider to revert to them successfully in the court as this matter confirms.


For further information on this topic please contact LKOS Law Office by email or by telephone (+358 40 6724285). The LKOS Law Office website can be accessed at

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*This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute a legal advice.