The Oropesa [1943] 1 All ER 211

Novus Actus Interveniens – Chain of Causation – Negligence - Foreseeability


There were storms out at sea and a collision happened between two ships, the Oropesa and the Manchester Regiment. In the incident, the Manchester Regiment suffered bad damage. The captain of the ship ordered 50 of his crew over to the Oropesa by lifeboat. One hour later, he boarded a lifeboat with 15 crewmembers, in order to seek advice, assistance and to enable help messages to be sent for the Manchester Regiment. However, the heavy seas caused the lifeboat they were on to capsize and as a result, nine of the crewmembers drowned. The relatives of the seamen brought an action for their deaths.


The issues surrounded who was responsible for the death of the seamen, whether it was the Oropesa captain or the Manchester Regiment captain. Advice was sought on whether the captain’s actions of leaving the sinking vessel broke the chain of causation.


It was held that the deaths of the seaman were directly caused by the negligence of the Oropesa. There was no novus actus interveniens. The captain’s decision to leave the boat naturally resulted from the emergency of the severe damage caused by the Oropesa. Thus, there was no break in the chain of causation by the captain. Lord Wright stated that in order to break the chain of causation, the action had to be ‘unwarrantable, a new cause which disturbs the sequence of events, something which can be described as either unreasonable or extraneous or extrinsic’ [25].