Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


Ralph Morley *


91. Argentum Exploration Ltd v the Silver and All Persons Claiming to be Interested in and/or to Have Rights in Respect of, the Silver 1

Admiralty action in rem—salvage—silver—silver owned by state—shipped on merchant vessel under bill of lading—vessel sunk—state immunity—State Immunity Act 1978—commercial purposes—whether cargo and ship were in use or intended for use for commercial purposes—whether foreign government could claim immunity in claim for salvage
In 1942 the Government of the Union of South Africa purchased a consignment of 2,391 silver bars shipped free on board the SS Tilawa at Bombay for use in coinage. A Japanese submarine sank the vessel with considerable loss of life. The claimant salvage company Argentum retrieved 2,364 bars of silver from the wreck in 2017. The claimant landed the bars at Southampton, declared them to the Receiver of Wreck and subsequently claimed salvage. The Government of the Republic of South Africa (“the RSA”) asserted its interest in the bars.2 The RSA applied to have the proceedings struck out, set aside or stayed on the ground of state immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978 (“SIA 1978”). SIA 1978, s.10(4) provides that there is no state immunity in an action in rem against cargo, or in an action in personam for enforcing a claim in connection with a cargo, if both the cargo and the ship carrying it were, at the time when the cause of action arose, in use or intended for use for commercial purposes.
At first instance, Teare J dismissed the RSA’s application, holding that the cargo had been shipped on board a merchant ship on commercial terms, that both vessel and cargo were in use for commercial purposes in 1942 and that both remained as such thereafter. The RSA appealed.
Decision: Appeal dismissed.
Held: (1) The drafter of SIA 1978, s.10(4) must have intended it to apply to ships and cargoes which had become wreck. The “use” and “intended use” of both ship and cargo must be construed in that context.

* Barrister, 7 King’s Bench Walk, London.
1. [2022] EWCA Civ 1313; [2023] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 405; [2023] 2 WLR 209 (CA, Civ Div: Popplewell, Andrews and Elisabeth Laing LJJ); noted Hepburn and Walpole (2023) 139 LQR 199; affg [2020] EWHC 3434 (Admlty); [2021] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 1; [2021] QB 585 (QB, Admiralty Ct: Sir Nigel Teare); noted Hepburn and Walpole (2021) 137 LQR 385; Rose [2021] LMCLQ 227.
2. As successor to the Union of South Africa.


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