Think You Can Sue The Canadian Coast Guard? Think Again!

Clipper Adventurer Aground In Canadian Waters
Canadian Coast Guard photo of the 122-passenger cruise ship Clipper Adventurer aground In Canadian waters

In 2009, gCaptain’s sister site, UnofficialNetworks.com, took a long distance ski adventure to Antartica aboard the ice capable expedition ship. The trip was a huge success for the Unofficial Team and became the first leg on a 7 continent adventure which is currently being produced as a follow-up to the company’s first full length movie G.N.A.R. A successful trip by all accounts, but also a lucky one for the ship they boarded, M/V Clipper Adventurer, which had a few problems that where not advertised on the brochure.

Problems began for the ship just months after the Antarctic trip when, during a summer cruise through the Northwest Passage, she grounded hard on what was reported to be an uncharted rock. No injuries where reported during the incident but the ship’s passengers and reputation suffered during the two days it took the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen to arrive on scene.

But who was at fault? According to the ship’s operator, Adventurer Owner Inc, the blame rests squarely on the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans who had known of the rock since September 2007, but failed to update charts of the region. For this reason the company made the unusual decision to sue the Canadian government for $14.9 million.

A later investigation by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) confirmed the fact that the ship’s Canadian Hydrographic Service chart was in fact missing the hazard. According to the official report this failure “depriv(ed) the bridge team of one source of critical information regarding the existence of a shoal on their planned route.”

So can a company sue the government for failing to update a chart? Maybe, but the TSB report also shed light on a few other pieces of information including the fact that the ship’s bridge team was running the vessel at full speed (13.9 knots) on a course which crossed close to an island and they updated the chart with the vessels position at intervals of just one every hour. The ship’s forward looking sonar was also non-operational and for the most critical segments of the voyage they navigated from on single line of positioning taken from just one of the vessel’s radars.

And here is the most critical fact: The rock was uncharted because the ship’s officers failed to update the chart. As the report states “The shoal had been previously identified and reported in a Notice to Shipping, however, the bridge team was unaware of and did not actively access local Notice to Shipping”.

As a result of these failures of bridge team management and the company’s safety management system, the Canadian Coast Guard filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking almost half a million dollars in damages from the MV Clipper Adventurer and its owners. According to the CBC, the lawsuit says the damages are to prevent, repair or minimize pollution from the ship’s grounding. It also states that the rock shelf was a known hazard to mariners since September 2007 and that 13 tanks aboard were breached during the incident and subsequent two week long salvage.

According to one travel website the ship is back in service and is expected to depart on it’s next trip to Antartica in November. No information has been released on whether the ship will return to Canadian waters this summer.