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                                                                                                                                                 By Jim Wilson
                                                                                                                                                 Staff Reporter

                                                                                                                                  spend a penny. He was followed by the
                                                                                                                                  justice minister. When the politician
                                                                                                                                  caught up with the lawyer, he asked
                                                                                                                                  Gosling to come away with him.
                                                                                                                                     The lawyer, reasonably, refused and
                                                                                                                                  pointed out that they were in a big,
                                                                                                                                  important meeting and could not just
                                                                                                                                  get up and leave.
                                                                                                                                     “Then he pulled out a gun and said,
                                                                                                                                  ‘Come with me’,” Gosling recalls.
                                                                                                                                     So the minister whisked the lawyer
                                                                               Gosling with his Alexander                         away to meet the vice-president of
                                                                             McFaul painting: “If you know                        Liberia. “I was bloody nervous at that
                                                                            both your story and their story                       stage,” Gosling adds. The VP expressed

                                                                                                              Photo: Jim Wilson
                                                                             before they do, then you have                        his extreme displeasure “and, much to
                                                                                    a hell of an advantage”                       my shame, I agreed with him,” he says.
                                                                                                                                     He was bundled into a limousine when

                     Lucky Jim
                                                                                                                                  the meeting concluded, driven to the air-
                                                                                                                                  port and thrown out of the country.
                                                                                                                                     Meanwhile, the US lawyer was
                                                                                                                                  left sitting at a table in Monrovia,
                                                                                                                                  wondering what had happened to his
                                                                                                                                  English colleague.

                                                                                                                                  To disclose or retain?
                     James Gosling has been nominated as the UK’s top                                                             Ethical dilemmas have cropped up for

                     wet-shipping lawyer. His career has included kidnap                                                          Gosling more often than threats. He
                                                                                                                                  tells Fairplay that there was a spate of

                     at gunpoint, hand-to-hand combat between salvors,                                                            fires on container ships caused by car-
                                                                                                                                  rying calcium hypochlorite, a powerful

                     a carnivorous fish and much death and destruction                                                            chemical disinfectant normally used
                                                                                                                                  to sterilise swimming pools, which is
                                                                                                                                  manufactured in China and the US.
                                                                                                                                     In one case it was clear that a box full

                           ames Gosling, a partner with            an expected onslaught of jokes at his                          of the stuff had ignited when, in theory,
                           Holman Fenwick & Willan, has            expense from colleagues at law firm                            it should have been stable. There were
                           just been listed as one of the UK’s     Holman Fenwick & Willan (HF&W),                                even suggestions that the owners had
                     top 10 shipping lawyers in the Legal 500,     where he has been worked for about a                           heated it.
                     an influential directory of lawyers. He       quarter-century.                                                  “We hired a mad Australian scientist
                     has also been informally nominated as           That might sound like a pretty sleepy                        to do tests in the Outback,” Gosling
                     the UK’s top ‘wet’ lawyer, which means        history, but just listen to the stories.                       recalls. The chemical’s critical tempera-
                     ‘admiralty practice’.                           “I met the vice-president of Liberia,”                       ture turned out to be much lower than
                        When Fairplay breaks the news to           Gosling recalls. He had travelled to the                       had previously been realised.
                     him, he is absolutely horrified. “I’m         West African country in the early 1980s                           “We had to decide whether to release
                     embarrassed quite easily,” he groans          with a US lawyer to enforce a govern-                          the information or keep it – we were in
                     with a bright-red face.                       ment security. “And they didn’t take                           danger of destroying our case. It was
                        After some time and much cringing,         particularly kindly to it,” he chuckles.                       the insurer’s decision and they just said,
                     Gosling eventually forces out the phrase        Gosling was sitting in a meeting with                        ‘f*** it – release it.’
                     “I’m very flattered” through gritted teeth.   the American and the Liberia’s justice                            “A lot of people had died, and we
                        “But it will cost me a lot of jibes        and finance ministers. Nature called                           couldn’t live with the idea of someone
                     internally,” he laughs, referring to          and Gosling nipped out of the room to                          else dying” he explains. “It’s good – it

38 Fairplay 29 September 2005                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                           JAMES GOSLING

shows that we’re not just in a money-                     “The first thing we do is put that guy
grubbing industry.”                                    at ease. And then we always ask them                       NAME: James Gosling
   Wet lawyers advise on collisions and                for the truth – as we always find out                      FAMILY: Married to Brenda. Two adult children – Lucy (20) reading
salvage, so solicitors in admiralty prac-              the truth. But we are the first friendly                   geography at Newcastle University and Tom (18) due to read surveying at
tice must get used to dealing with cases               face that they see. I still get Christmas                  Northumbria University
involving death.                                       cards from masters. And you have to act                    EDUCATION: Read French, Spanish and law at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge
   Gosling sites one example: “I was                   quickly,” he adds.                                         ARTICLES: Articled at Stoneham, Langton & Passmore
involved in the Limburg case. What                        Gosling heard about the first Tricolor
                                                                                                                  ADMISSION: 1980, then joined Holman Fenwick & Willan
an arrogant, useless waste of life. A                  collision at about 0345 in the morning of
                                                                                                                  PARTNERSHIP: 1988 at HF&W
Bulgarian fitter died. He was just trying              the accident. By 0600 his firm had a man
to get some money to keep his family.                  heading through the Channel Tunnel.
It’s just senseless.”                                  Tricolor’s crew were fully interviewed                     Rugby – Wasps
                                                       by late morning, and the crew of the                       Sailing – Yacht master’s licence
No oxygen in hold                                      other ship were next.                                      Opera – Madam Butterfly
Gosling also recounts a sad case                          “If you know both your story and their                  Motorbike – Yamaha 600 intruder
onboard a cargo ship that was carrying                 story before they do, then you have a hell                 Art – Alexander McFaul (see photo)
scrap metal. “Five people died,” he tells              of an advantage,” he explains.                             Beer – Abbot Ale from Cambridgeshire
Fairplay, because the scrap had eaten all                 Gosling thinks tactically on behalf
the oxygen in the hold, so when one of
the crew went below, he collapsed.
   “When the crew saw that someone
had collapsed, they went to help. And
                                                          Legal 500’s top-rated wet and dry lawyers
they went down one after the other,”                           Ben Browne – Shaw & Croft                                          James Gosling – HF&W
he adds.                                                       Richard Crump – Holman Fenwick & Willan                            Tim Kelleher – Thomas Cooper & Stibbard
   His worst case was Scandinavian                             Bob Deering – Ince                                                 Hugh Livingstone – HF&W
Star, a ferry that caught fire and sank                        Lindsay East – Richards Butler                                     David Lucas – Middleton Potts
in 1990. More than 150 people were                             Simon Fletcher – Clyde                                             Mark Morrison – Clifford Chance
killed. Gosling watched the recovery                           Paolo Ghirardani – Stephenson Harwood                              Brian Nash – Clyde
of the bodies. “I saw them bring up the
children. They were the same age as my
own,” he says quietly.                                 of owners, too. One key decision that                                               back of a fag packet,” he explains. “Then
   Getting to the scene is a big part of               has to be made quickly after a collision                                            you divide liability. Then you work out
what an admiralty solicitor does. “The                 is where to arrest the ship. Nigeria, for                                           were to arrest – and you do it quickly.”
shipmaster is traumatised,” Gosling                    example, limits claims to $8,000, and yet                                             Gosling tells Fairplay that his best
explains. “It’s probably the first disaster            the assets involved can be worth mil-                                               memory in shipping involves a trip up
he’s been involved in, and he’s likely to              lions of dollars.                                                                   the Orinoco River. He was involved in
have hurt or killed someone. Then we                      “You need to work out your [client’s]                                            salvage work and was treated to local
arrive – it’s the last thing that they want.           losses and the [other side’s losses] on the                                         hospitality and cuisine.

                                                                                                                                           Man bites fish!
  Salvor sleight-of-hand                                                                                                                   “I was eating piranha soup. I had the
                                                                                                                                           curious feeling that I was getting them
  ADMIRALTY practice has its moments of comedy. James               was getting a free service and happily signed the form. It             back,” he chuckles.
  Gosling chuckles when he recounts a tale of slugger salvors       was a big mistake. It transpires that the two ‘pilots’ were in            Gosling clearly enjoys his work.
  and a Spanish-speaking captain.                                   fact salvors – and the form actually read ‘no cure – no pay’. It       “Ships really get under your skin,” he
     The vessel was anchored in a Dutch harbour, but the            was the Lloyd’s form on salvage.                                       admits. “It’s a small world, interesting
  anchor began to drag. Harbour officials advised that a pilot         So rather than paying a relatively small towage fee, the            people, and you can still have a laugh.”
  should be hired to repeat the anchoring.                          Captain had, by signing, made the owner liable for a sum                  And he has found a home at HF&W.
     Five minutes later, a tug turns up with a pilot. Five min-     based on the value of the ship and the cargo, which was a              “It’s not very fashionable, but I’ve got
  utes on, and another pilot turns up. The newcomer boards          very large amount.                                                     a lot of friends here and it’s just good
  the ship and promptly attacks the first pilot, who retaliates.       The vessel was promptly arrested. Gosling was sent to               fun,” he says.
     The captain separates them, the pilots patch up their          investigate. It turned out that the salvors had been listening            “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been
  differences, shake hands and get on with towing the vessel.       to radio communications, had the same idea, fought over it             involved in a lot of high-profile cases,
  Then they present the master with a form that had been            and then closed some sort of private deal.                             but I get a buzz whether it is high- or
  folded vertically to show the English words ‘no pay’.                “I’ve got a lot of time for salvors – they’re very brave peo-       low-profile. I’m a lucky guy who’s had
     The captain, who could read little English, thought he         ple – but this went too far,” Gosling laughs.                          a lucky career. I couldn’t have planned
                                                                                                                                           it better.”                                                                                                                                         29 September 2005 Fairplay 39

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