Unlike parties to a bill of lading or charter party dispute whose contracts enable them to regulate and assess their rights and duties as well as the consequences of a breach, the parties to a collision action are likely to be strangers who neither had an opportunity to set their own standard of conduct nor to select a forum or body of law by negotiation. An owner whose vessel has been involved in a collision therefore may find that his rights and liabilities will vary dramatically depending on the forum in which an action is brought. An international effort toward uniformity in collision cases can be seen in international conventions, in particular the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law with Respect to Collision Between Vessels (Collision Convention), the International Convention on Certain Rules Concerning Civil Jurisdiction in Matters of Collision (Civil Jurisdiction Convention), and the International Convention Relating to the Arrest of Sea-Going Ships (Arrest Convention).Although this intention is laudable, substantial national differences remain, not only because the United States has refrained from joining in these conventions, but also because choice of law rules used by courts of signatory states may dictate that some law other than the relevant convention must be applied to the case before them.
The object of this paper is to offer a comparison of the procedural and substantive laws and choice of law rules relevant to collision actions in the principal English-speaking maritime nations. The questions addressed will be the ability to obtain jurisdiction, limitations on the right to arrest or obtain security, the effect of appearance in the action, national substantive doctrines, and choice of law rules both in general and with respect to particular issues.