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Admiralty jurisdiction—procedure—collision between vessels—case management of resulting four proceedings in three different courts
The vessel Little Eagle collided with several other vessels in the Gold Coast City Marina in Queensland, and then allided with part of the marina itself. The owner of Little Eagle instituted proceedings in the Sydney registry of the Federal Circuit Court, claiming that the incident occurred because Little Eagle failed to respond to commands given by its operator owing to deficient electrical work carried out by the defendant. The owner of the marina instituted proceedings against the operator of Little Eagle in the Brisbane registry of the Federal Court, which were then transferred to the Brisbane registry of the Federal Circuit Court. The owners of two of the vessels struck by Little Eagle separately instituted proceedings against the operator in the Queensland Magistrates Court. After being informed by the owner of Little Eagle of the existence of the other proceedings, the judge in the Sydney registry of the Federal Circuit Court asked the owner’s lawyers to write to the plaintiffs in the other proceedings, inviting them to attend a directions hearing to determine whether the claims in the four proceedings constituted a single “matter”, with the consequence that the Federal Circuit Court would have jurisdiction to determine that “matter” in one proceeding. Legal representatives of all parties appeared at the directions hearing. All agreed that the claims in the four proceedings should be heard and determined together, but they disagreed about the venue in which that should occur.
Decision: Although the balance of convenience suggested that all proceedings should be heard and determined together in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane, it was premature to make such an order until all pleadings had been filed.
Held: (1) The Sydney and Brisbane registries of the Federal Circuit Court and the Queensland Magistrates Court would all have jurisdiction to hear all of the claims arising in the four different proceedings. All of the claims in the four proceedings were “general maritime claims” within the meaning of the Admiralty Act 1988 (Cth), s.4(3).2 As a result, s.9(1) of the