On February 10, 2020, four crew members of the M/V MELVIN L. KING took the vessel's skiff to a bar where they consumed alcohol for over two hours. The skiff, overloaded and without proper lighting, later collided with a barge tow being pushed by the M/V CECILE A. FITCH while returning to the MELVIN L KING. Two crew members drowned as a result of the collision.
The Court found that CECILE’s captain properly operated the vessel and tow and kept a proper lookout under the circumstances. In contrast, the Court found the KING’s crew members' intoxication and operation of an unseaworthy skiff in violation of navigation rules were the sole causes of the accident.
With respect CECILE’s navigation at the time of the incident, the Court held her master:
was not required to post a lookout on the head of his tow under the prevailing circumstances;
was not required to equip his vessel with two radars under the prevailing circumstances,
was not required to constantly stare at the radar under the prevailing circumstances, and
was not required to use a radar range greater than the one quarter under the prevailing circumstances,
As for the KING and her skiff, the Court held:
her two captains were not simply employees, but rather, were considered a “vital element” of the company’s management team per the company’s Towing Safety Management System (TSMS),
her two captains were “responsible for the safety, behavior, performance, and welfare of crewmembers at all times” per the company’s TSMS,
her captain failed to take any action to locate his crew alert the company’s shoreside management that four of its six employees on the KING were missing,
her captain failed to ensure the crew had taken the skiff’s navigation lights,
the skiff was overloaded,
intoxication played a role in the incident,
her skiff violated Inland Navigation Rule 23 (lighting),
her skiff violated Inland Navigation Rule 5 (Lookout),
her skiff violated Inland Navigation Rule 16 (Right-of-way),
her skiff violated Inland Navigation Rule 9 (Narrow channel), and
her crew were in the course and scope of their employment during the incident even though they were intoxicated.
After weighing the evidence, the Court held that the CECILE’s owner was entitled to exoneration from liability in the limitation of liability action that it filed.
A copy of the decision can be accessed through the following link:
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