Sum won by yacht club over vessel's stay slashed

Rate of berthing fees for visiting vessels should be based on length of vessel, not berth, says judge

In April last year, a 58ft-long commercial vessel sailed into the marina at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) to refuel - and did not leave for the next 123 days.

The boat was owned by Underwater Shipcare, whose managing director, Mr Paul Baragwanath, is a member of the club.

Mr Baragwanath said the rudder had malfunctioned and needed repairs. When the single hull vessel remained, despite the RSYC's objections and numerous requests for it to be moved, the club sued Mr Baragwanath and Underwater Shipcare, and won $51,870 in damages.

Now the High Court has slashed the sum to $17,372 on appeal, after it disagreed with the way the original amount was computed.

Billed as Asia's oldest yacht club and anchored at West Coast Ferry Road on the western seashore, the RSYC houses structures such as a marina constructed on a portion of the Singapore foreshore and seabed.

It grants licences at certain rates to members to use the wet berths for mooring any vessel, boat or craft owned exclusively by the members for agreed periods. Vessels not belonging to members may also use the marina at visitor rates, which are higher than what members pay.

A district court had awarded $51,870 in damages and $5,000 in costs to the club in August, but Mr Baragwanath and Underwater Shipcare took issue with the sum and appealed to the High Court.

The district court had computed the amount based on different rates payable over three different periods within the 123 days. These rates varied from $88 per day to $175 and $399 a day.

Mr Baragwanath's lawyer, Mr Siraj Omar, disputed the rates used and urged that the sum be quantified based on the rate used to charge club visitors who used the marina.

He argued that payment rates should be based on the vessel length. But the club's lawyer, Mr Patrick Wee, countered that the berth length should be used instead, given there were two berths of different lengths where the vessel had moored at different times.

Justice Choo Han Teck, after considering all the relevant materials, ruled in judgment grounds released yesterday that vessel length and not berth length was the only way for calculating "the rate of berthing fees for visiting vessels".

"By reason of the vessel's trespass into the (club's) marina, the club has suffered loss - that being the market value it charges for a visitor's use of its berth," he added.

But the judge found there were no grounds to adopt a higher rate for punitive reasons "just because the vessel was trespassing".

Based on the visitor's rate of $88 per day for vessels up to 70ft long using a single berth and multiplying it by 123 days, the $17,372 figure was derived. This included the 50 per cent premium for the commercial vessel and 7 per cent goods and services tax.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'Sum won by yacht club over vessel's stay slashed'. Print Edition | Subscribe