Fishing Vessel Master's Violates Primary Duty

Monday, August 12, 2002
In Northern Queen, Inc. v. Kinnear, 2002 WL 1799711 (9th Cir. August 7, 2002), the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Blake Kinnear, master (and 22 percent owner) of the F/V LIN J, violated the primary duty rule when the vessel sank in icy waters of the Bering Sea in March 1999, relieving the vessel's owner, Northern Queen, Inc.--77 percent owned by his wife and one percent owned by his minor daughter--of liability for his death. Northern Queen initiated the suit by filing a claim under the Limitation of Liability Act, seeking to limit the vessel owner's liability to the post-casualty value of the vessel together with her pending freight. The court found Northern Queen could not rely on this Act because Kinnear--an owner of the vessel--had knowledge of the F/V LIN J's unseaworthiness and "failed to adequately respond or correct those conditions in his capacity as captain." The court's discussion of the primary duty rule is extensive. The rule provides that a seaman "may not recover from his employer for injuries caused by his own failure to perform a duty imposed upon him by his employment." The court had unusually detailed evidence of the decisions Captain Kinnear made leading up to the casualty, through e-mails he sent from his vessel to a cannery where he was taking the 55,000 pound cargo of snow crab. These e-mails established that Kinnear (a) traveled at an excessive rate of speed given the wintery conditions which caused excessive icing on the vessel and (b) chose to carry an excessive number of crab pots on the vessel's deck which blocked access to the lazarette in which water was accumulating, the two conditions, the court found, leading to the vessel's instability and foundering. Source: Marine Legal Update
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