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Drillship liable for breakaway damages during Hurricane Harvey

This case involves a drillship breaking away in Port Aransas and causing property damage during Hurricane Harvey.

The DPDS1, an unmanned and unpowered drill ship owned by Paragon Asset Co., was docked at Port Aransas prior to Hurricane Harvey's arrival to the area on August 25, 2017. Paragon attempted to evacuate the drillship before Hurricane Harvey made landfall but was unable to do so because it waited to long to make the evacuation order. After the evacuation effort failed, Paragon hired Signet Maritime Corporation to provide two tugs to apply thrust into the drillship to help keep the drillship secured during the storm.

On August 25, 2017, at the height of the storm, the drillship broke from its moorings, damaging both Signet tugs and sinking one. The drillship then ran around in the Corpus Christi ship channel, but on August 28, 2017 it refloated and allided with a nearby research pier owned by the University of Texas ("UT").

The case was tried in federal court without a jury. The district court found the drillship alone was liable for the initial August 25 breakaway damage. The district court concluded that Signet and the drillship were equally liable for damages suffered by UT because Signet had supplied a third tug to monitor the drillship's movement after the storm and failed to stop the vessel's allision with the UT pier.

Paragon appealed asking the the Fifth Circuit to apply a "towage law" standard of care to Signet's provision of hold-in services to Paragon. Further, Paragon argued that it should not be liable under the force majeure/act of god defense. The Fifth Circuit rejected Paragon's arguments and affirmed the district court's decision.

The Fifth Circuit held the district court was correct that the law of towage did not apply to the Signet tugs merely holding in the drillship against the dock during the storm. The Signet tugs merely provided a supplement to the drillship's mooring arrangement which did not trigger any heightened duties under the law of towage.

The Fifth Circuit also held the district court was correct to reject Paragon's act of god or force majeure defense. The Fifth Circuit noted there were five drill ships on the Texas coast before Hurricane Harvey's landfall. All of them evacuated except for Paragon's DPDS1. The evidence at trial showed Paragon could have evacuated the drillship before the hurricane had it not waited so long to make an evacuation order. Further, there was evidence that the mooring configuration for the drillship was inadequate for the forecasted weather conditions. These facts established negligence, and, in turn, negated the act of god defense.

A copy of the decision can be accessed through the link below:

A recording of oral argument at the Fifth Circuit can be accessed through the following link:

Please feel free to reach out at (504) 553-1435 or if you have any questions or would like to discuss.


Adam Davis Law Firm


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