The 1992 Civil Liability Convention

The 1992 Civil Liability Convention (1992 CLC) governs the liability of shipowners for oil pollution damage.

Under this Convention, the registered shipowner has strict liability for pollution damage caused by the escape or discharge of persistent oil from his ship. This means that he is liable even in the absence of fault on his part. He is exempt from liability only if he proves that:

  • the damage resulted from an act of war, hostilities, civil war, insurrection or a natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable and irresistible character, or
  • the damage was wholly caused by an act or omission done with the intent to cause damage by a third party, or
  • the damage was wholly caused by the negligence or other wrongful act of any Government or other authority responsible for the maintenance of lights or other navigational aids, in the exercise of that function.

The shipowner is normally entitled to limit his liability to an amount determined by the size of the ship, as set out in the following table.

Ship's tonnage

CLC Limit

Ship not exceeding 5 000 units of gross tonnage

SDR 4 510 000 *

Ship between 5 000 and 140 000 units of gross tonnage

SDR 4 510 000 plus SDR 631 for each additional unit of tonnage

Ship 140 000 units of gross tonnage or over

SDR 89 770 000 

For ships carrying more than 2 000 tonnes of oil as cargo in bulk, the shipowner is obliged to maintain insurance to cover his liability under the 1992 CLC, and claimants have a right of direct action against the insurer. Any claims for pollution damage under the 1992 CLC can be made only against the registered owner of the ship concerned. This does not, in principle, preclude victims from claiming compensation outside the Conventions from persons other than the shipowner.

However, the 1992 CLC prohibits claims against the servants or agents of the shipowner, the members of the crew, the pilot, the charterer (including a bareboat charterer), manager or operator of the ship, or any person carrying out salvage operations or taking preventive measures, unless the pollution damage resulted from the personal act or omission of the person concerned, committed with the intent to cause such damage, or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably result.

* The unit of account in the Conventions is the Special Drawing Right (SDR) as defined by the International Monetary Fund.