Three Vessels Did Not Pass Peacefully in the Night – [20-30019] | ZFZ Postcard Cases
The Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court ruling in an allision event involving three vessels travelling on the Mississippi River that occurred in early 2016. In its own words the ruling focused on “why, and how fault should be assigned.”
The allision occurred as the ARIS T passing the LORETTA and ELIZABETH at the same time as the LORETTA was overtaking the ELIZABETH, given the positioning there was simply not enough room for three adjacent vessels.
Several limitations of liability actions were filed. The district court found all three vessels liable. On the principle of comparative fault, the court found the LORETTA and the ELIZABETH 45% liable each for creating a dangerous situation with their overtaking agreement and ARIS T was found 10% liable. In regard to the limitation actions, the court denied the LORETTA’s because it was deemed unseaworthy due to inefficient equipment on board, and the court also denied the ELIZABETH’s due to unseaworthiness because the crew was deemed incompetent. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed the finding of Elizabeth’s captain incompetence, but still affirmed the district court’s other grounds for denying the Elizabeth’s liability action. The court was able to only find that the ARIS T’s owners could limit their liability in this three vessel allision based on the compulsory pilot defense which was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit. Under the compulsory pilot defense, a vessel itself is liable in rem for a maritime collision caused by the sole fault of its compulsory pilot, but the shipowner will not be liable in personam.
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