Electronic Navigation and Causation

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that failure to train a master on how to properly use electronic navigation equipment does not make the vessel owner fully liable for an allision nor does it prevent the vessel owner from limiting its liability when there is insufficient evidence to prove that such failure to train was the cause of the allision.

In the instant case, defendant’s fishing vessel allided with plaintiff’s offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The allision occurred at night, after the master (who was navigating the vessel) turned on the lights on the bridge to examine a defective engine part and conduct related administrative activities. The evidence showed that the lights on the offshore rig were not functioning properly. Turning on the bridge lights severely degraded the master’s ability to detect unlit objects at sea. It also degraded his ability to observe radar targets.

The vessel was equipped with an electronic chart that had an obstruction warning system. The vessel owner had not provided the master with training in use of the electronic chart system and he had never read the operating manual. Evidence indicated, though, that there were so many offshore rigs in this portion of the Gulf of Mexico that the master would not have received an effective warning of the obstruction. The court ruled that the allision was partially due to a mistake of navigation by the master and that, since the vessel was not rendered unseaworthy thereby, the owner was entitled to limit its liability.

(Omega Protein v. Samson Contour Energy, No. 07-30725 (5th Cir., November 10, 2008).

(Source: Holland & Knight)

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