The ship in this Mississippi River collision case argued it was a privileged vessel under the Inland Navigational Rules such that the other vessel had a statutory duty to keep out of its way. Specifically, the ship argued it was a Rule 18 vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver because it was heaving anchors when collision occurred. Before trial, the court rejected this argument and held that heaving anchors to get underway does not give a ship any navigational privileges under the Inland Navigational Rules.
On January 3, 2019, a ship collided with a downbound six-barge tow on the Mississippi River near Chalmette, Louisiana. During the collision, the ship was making an unannounced swing maneuver out of the General Anchorage (a designated ship anchorage) and into the middle of the river where the downbound tow was navigating.
The ship’s master and compulsory pilot failed to warn the tow before swinging the ship out into the middle of the river. Audio recordings showed the compulsory pilot was engaged in a cellphone call for several minutes before collision.
The ship’s owner and compulsory pilot argued before trial that the ship was the privileged vessel under Inland Navigation Rule 18 such that the downbound tow was required to keep out of the ship’s way. To support this argument, they claimed the ship’s movement was restricted due to it still having an anchor in the water. The ship hired a navigational expert to echo this position.
The plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment asking the court to confirm the ship was not entitled to the navigational privilege as a matter of law because the ship was not engaged in any “work” as required by Inland Navigation Rule 3(g). The plaintiff also filed a motion asking the court to prevent the ship from making the argument at trial. The court granted both motions before trial.
Under Inland Navigation Rule 18, a power-driven vessel is required to keep out of the way of a vessel “restricted in her ability to maneuver “ For this rule to apply, the definition provided in Inland Navigation Rule 3 must be satisfied.
Specifically, Rule 3 defines terms used throughout the Inland Navigation Rules. In pertinent part, Rule 3(g) defines a “vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver” as “a vessel which, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.” Rule 3(g) also provides:
The term vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver include, but are not limited to:
(i) [a] vessel engaged in laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline;
(ii) a vessel engaged in dredging, surveying, or underwater operations;
(iii) a vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons, provisions, or cargo while underway;
(iv) a vessel engaged in the launching or recovery of aircraft;
(v) a vessel engaged in mine clearance operations;
(vi) a vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course.
The court determined that a ship which merely heaves anchor to get underway does not qualify as a Rule 18 privileged vessel because it does not satisfy the definition of that term provided in Rule 3(g). Here is some pointed analysis from the court:
The Court finds that heaving anchors is not "work" as defined by Rule 3(g). When interpreting statutory language, courts are guided by canons of construction. The ejusdem generis canon instructs that "when a general term follows a specific one, the general term should be understood as a reference to subjects akin to the one with specific enumeration." Here, Rule 3(g) specifies six examples of work that restrict a vessel's ability to maneuver, but provides that the list is not exhaustive. The types of work specified in the statute involve highly specific and non-standard activities. For example, "laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline;" "dredging, surveying, or underwater operations;" "replenish[ing] or transferring persons, provisions, or cargo while underway;" "launching or recovery of aircraft;" "mine clearance operations;" or "towing operation[s] ... restrict[ing] the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course." Unlike the specific examples in the statute, heaving anchors is a typical, ordinary, regular activity for a vessel with anchors.
As the Eleventh Circuit cautioned, "much time, energy and expert thought was invested in the [INR's] development by Congress." If Congress intended to include the highly ordinary activity of heaving anchors in the "nature of her work" requirement, Congress surely would have done so. "Nevertheless, from the wording of the [INR], Congress apparently intended otherwise...." To expand Rule 3(g) to capture un-anchoring procedures would vastly expand the scope of the INR. This Court, like the Eleventh Circuit, is "ill prepared to know what the consequences of such innovation might be for the regulatory system and for waterborne traffic in general." Accordingly, the Court finds that the Strandja was not a "vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver" under Rules 3(g) and 18.
As a result, the ship's legal team was not permitted present any evidence (including its expert's opinions) suggesting the ship was a Rule 18 privileged vessel under the Inland Navigation Rules.
The case citation for this decision is Marquette Transp. Co. Gulf-Inland v. Bulgarea, 557 F. Supp. 3d 757 (E.D. La. 2021). A publicly available version is accessible through this link: https://casetext.com/case/marquette-transp-co-gulf-inland-v-bulgarea-1
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (985) 705-1028 if you have any questions or would like to discuss.