Law of Tug and Tow and Offshore Contracts

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The contract of towage

Part A. Preliminary considerations

Defining towage

1.1 The towage of one ship by another as a common maritime operation began with the development of the steam paddle tug in the 1820s and 1830s. The first tug upon the River Thames appears to have been the Lady Dundas in 1832 (see F C Bowing, A Hundred Years of Towing: A History). Not long afterwards in 1839, in perhaps the most celebrated and certainly the most beautiful depiction of towage, Turner painted the Téméraire under tow from Sheerness to Beatson’s breakers-yard in Rotherhithe on the evening of 6 September 1838. Soon, steam tugs were assisting the sailing ships in the rivers and ports of England. As they grew more powerful, they were engaged to tow sailing ships on longer voyages to hasten the arrival or departure of the ships. So, by the mid-nineteenth century sailing ships would “take steam” to and from the places where the outward pilot was dropped or the inward pilot was taken on board. The definition of towage given by the courts reflected the limited nature of the service that tugs then performed. A towage service was described in The Princess Alice (1849) 3 W Rob 138 at p. 139 by Dr Lushington:

as the employment of one vessel to expedite the voyage of another when nothing more is required than the accelerating [of] her progress.

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