Dead cattle: SIA Cargo cleared of 80% blame

Australian appeal court apportions 80% fault to Aussie cargo supplier instead

Singapore Airlines cargo planes at the Changi Aiport Cargo Terminal.
Singapore Airlines cargo planes at the Changi Aiport Cargo Terminal. PHOTO: ST FILE

An Australian appeals court exonerated Singapore Airlines Cargo (SIA Cargo) from 80 per cent blame in a civil suit over the loss of 18 head of cattle found dead on arrival in Harbin, China, following a flight from Melbourne.

The court apportioned the 80 per cent fault to Australian cargo supplier Principle International instead, for not alerting the airline to its shipment load plan.

The load plan specified that crates containing nine cattle each were to be loaded on the upper deck, not the lower deck. In the September 2013 incident, nine crates were placed on the lower deck and 26 on the upper deck. Of the nine on the lower deck, two crates were placed in the back section of the aircraft where inadequate ventilation caused the cattle to die.

Each wooden crate had 50mm pinholes at the sides for ventilation and most were open at the top.

New South Wales Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Anthony Meagher said Principle created the plans for the livestock to be loaded and carried, including space, crate and ventilation requirements. As such, it had "to provide the carrier with specific instructions in the event that particular crates had to be carried in one hold rather than the other.

"Accepting that SIA Cargo could have requested a copy of the approved loading plan, SIA Cargo should be exonerated from 80 per cent of its liability to Principle," said Justice Meagher in judgment grounds last month.

Australia-based Principle, which specialises in delivering high-quality breeding cattle by air and sea, among other things, had earlier sued SIA Cargo for A$72,160 (S$77,500), the value of the dead cattle.

A trial judge had held SIA Cargo liable under the Montreal Convention, but apportioned 60 per cent blame to SIA and 40 per cent to Principle for contributing to the loss.

According to the International Air Transport Association website, the convention is a treaty that establishes airline liability in the case of death or injury to passengers, as well as delay, damage or loss of baggage and cargo.

Principle was awarded A$43,296 by the trial judge, leading to SIA's appeal heard in May. The New South Wales Appeal Court held that the trial judge erred and pared down Principle's entitlement to A$14,432 with interest payable.

The three-judge Appeal Court also laid down a number of markers to help decide liability, based on the globally recognised convention, that Australian lawyers say is significant in clarifying to what extent the convention relates to claims for damage to cargo during air transport.

Noting the judgment, an SIA spokesman said: "SIA Cargo also conducts regular reviews to ensure that livestock is handled safely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Dead cattle: SIA Cargo cleared of 80% blame'. Subscribe