U.S. Judge Orders Tanker Owner to Pay $44 Million Over Deadly Destroyer Collision

Maybe it is not only WAFIs that is ignorant of the rules, or think it doesn’t apply to them.
If they gets run down when crossing the bow of a larger ship they are not likely to get quite as sympathetic ear from a Judge as the US Navy though:

PS> I don’t know what Maritime Law expertise the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York has, nor what is their jurisdiction outside USA.
This collision happened in Singaporean waters and USS John S. McCain was found to be the 100% at fault by a Singaporean enquiry:

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My understanding of admiralty law is that unless one vessel is moored it’s impossible for any vessel to be 100% at fault.


Enquiry was not held by an Admiralty Court, nor was it’s purpose to make a legal judgement, or portion blame.

They found that the USS John S. McCain caused the collision by it’s action and lack of command and awareness.

PS> When an overtaking vessel cut across the bow of another ship there are not much doubt about who is at fault, but that is for a qualified Admiralty Court to declare.

The got the ONE ship to pay some money for the crash in Japan as well even though the US warship was at fault.

It’s one of the more respected and experienced Courts with regard to Admiralty law. A U.S. Court can have jurisdiction on a party outside the United States if certain “minimum contacts” are established, as evidenced by the fact that the owners of the Alinc were the plaintiff in this action.

It’s not that simple, as this case evidences. Admiralty uses proportionate fault, it’s not one is at fault and the other isn’t. See e.g. United States v. Reliable Transfer Co.. it’s how the owners of the Alinc were found to be liable for some of the damages to the destroyer. And if you want to add some extra shrapnel to the hand grenade, consider the application of the Pennsylvania Rule.

Then why did you bring it up in a discussion about the verdict by an court sitting in admiralty and its assessment of fault and damages? (Hamana, hamana, hamana).

I don’t think that’s a rule of law as much as a pragmatic application of the law, i.e. it’s theoretically possible, but will likely never happen.

See above. It’s a basic principle of admiralty law, recognized internationally for centuries. The U.S. was late to recognize it, see the case I cited above (U. S. v. Reliable Transfer Co.).


The tanker was found 20% at fault. Total damages was about $185 million.


From the gcaptain article:

Does the US Navy contribute their proportional 80% towards the compensation to victims and their families?

Opinion is here. Damages to victims will be addressed in a subsequent “Phase II.” The ruling is whether the owners of the Alnic can limit their liability, it did not decide issues related to liability of the United States.

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There is a good reason why most such disputes are settled by Arbitration in a Court in London.
(Or Singapore)

Why? I’m pretty sure arbitration follows centuries old maritime law… Is there anything in the 50+ pages findings of facts you disagree with? Note that the ruling on proportionate law was per Singapore law, not United States law. As one of our two resident experts on all things Singaporean, do you have issue with their interpretation?

Also, arbitration is typically for contract issues, usually when the contract specifically provides that disputes will be arbitrated, and not for tort actions. It also requires the consent of all partiers to use alternative dispute resolution, and the prospective plaintiffs in this case, who may or may not be known at this time, are unlikely to agree to arbitration.


After reading the “opinion”, one thing that was bothering me: The computer simulation part. The reading this is bugging me is the “human” factor. Remember the Tom Hanks movie “SULLY”? The part where the NTSB said he could land at an alternative airport - but it was discovered that would happen ONLY if Sully immediately diverted to the airport after the bird strike? There was no time for WTF? Additionally, the simulator runs were only achieved after several practice runs. . . Well, despite the problems with the tanker’s BRM, they only had 2+ minutes to figure out what their eyes & navionics were telling them. and take action. And how often has any of the current ship masters done simulator time on very-close-quarter collision avoidance??? I know I didn’t. [there but for the grace of god go I]. So after reading, although errors were made pre-collision, my opinion is that collision was almost inevitable because of the DDG; but AFTER THE COLLISION. Wow. Total FUBAR on the part of the tanker.


As a former British Colony Singapore’s Laws are based on English Common Law, which is why it has become a much used place for Maritime Arbitration. Many contracts state London or Singapore as the place of arbitration:

PS> I have been Expert Witness in a couple of Arbitration cases in Singapore and reviewed statements in one case that was withdrawn by one of the parties before it came to arbitration due to clarifications I asked for.

I have not read every word in the Opinion, or the enquiry report from Singapore, but from what I have read I still find it amazing that the owner/manager of the Alnic should need to seek protection from claims and liability for this collision.

That they did not understand what was happening when the DDG suddenly turned and headed across their bow.
That is understandable, both from a human and legal aspect.

Why were they on Autopilot when the SMS said it should not be used in Singapore Strait?
Depends on when it is deemed that you are “in Singapore Strait”.
The collision happened before the VTS zone started, when entering from the East.

It took some time after the collision before the engine was stopped and the autopilot switched off.
It is understandable that people were in shock when something as shocking and unexpected as this happen.

Besides, it is sometime advisable to maintain a bit of ahead power on not to separate the two ships until extent of damages, risk of flooding and capsizing has been determined. (That take coordination between the two ships, though)

A previous case of collision in Singapore Strait demonstrate just such action:
In this case the two ships where kept together, with the larger vessel “plugging the hole” in the side of the smaller until salvors arrived to assess the damages and risk by separating the two.

The case before the court in NY was not an arbitration case but an attempt by the Owner of the Alnic to protect himself from arbitrary claim, which did not come out as expected

PS> There may be a reason why New York is not a preferred place of arbitration anymore. (Other than by US companies)

Are you claiming the judgement is in error?

have you read the ruling?

proportioning blame is one thing, where did the values come from?
Moral of the 2 stories, dont be in the same ocean as the US navy.


From my post above:

After the fact investigators are able to make judgements using stop watches and measuring tapes but
the courts are expected to take into account the fact that the mariner was making decisions while in extremis.

Here’s from Farwell’s:

In some instances better to take some action that in hindsight turns out to be less than optimal than do nothing.

It’s in the opinion as well:



They don’t “need” to seek limitation, but considering that there are prospective plaintiffs who have lawyered up, it would be imprudent not to. It’s routine for maritime lawyers representing defendant shipping companies. It forces all prospective plaintiffs to litigate their cases in a single action, so a shipping company defendant only has to litigate one case, not one for every claimed victim. It also can get the case in front of a Federal court in admiralty. Unlike the plaintiff’s action in a state court, the action in a Federal court would be a bench trial (no jury).
It can also be used to shop for favorable judges in Federal court where judges are chosen randomly, i.e. you file a petition for limitation, and sit on it. If the prospective plaintiff files their action and draws a judge less favorable to your side, you serve your limitation action and the plaintiff’s action is dismissed and litigated in your limitation action. If you like the plaintiff’s judge more than the one you drew, you dismiss your action and litigate in the plaintiff’s action.


The reference to “Schoenbaum” in the footnote is to “Admiralty and Maritime Law” by Thomas J. Schoenbaum, it’s a recognized “hornbook” on Maritime Law (a hornbook is a textbook explaining the law, a “casebook” is a collection of selected case opinions on common issues). Personally, I’m partial to The Law of Admiralty by Gilmore and Black, it has a subtle sarcasm and dry wit that was lost on me as a cadet in a maritime law class, but later after plodding through more than few law books, it’s a hoot in comparison. Unfortunately, Gilmore and Black has not been updated since 1975, and Schoenbaum is regularly updated. But, maritime law changes slowly and many of the controlling cases from the 19th century are still valid.


You are defintely in the right business if you thinkcase law is a hoot. Reading case outcomes to shape company policy as part of our compliance mechanism is not the best part of my job…i have a hoot doing other things.

Not case law, it’s a hornbook. And I did say “in comparison.” But some case opinions can be entertaining, like this one, or the one I can’t remember but forgot the name of about a sailor who jumped out a bordello window, written in rhyming verse.