The owners of the MT Odfjell Bow Fortune, the 600-foot tanker that collided with a fishing vessel near Galveston, Texas on January 14, has asked a Federal court to absolve them of all financial liability associated with the fatal incident.
One crew member was killed, one was injured, and two remain missing and are presumed dead, including the captain of the fishing vessel, Raymond Anthony Herrera.
Houston maritime attorney Cory Itkin represents Herrera’s family. “Essentially, the tanker’s owner, Odjfell, has sued the survivors of this disaster and the families of the lost,” says Itkin. “A Norweigan shipping company is hiding behind an outdated 169-year-old American maritime law to protect their foreign insurance carriers. They’re trying to prevent the victims of this disaster from exercising their Constitutional right to seek justice in the civil courts.”
Itkin says that because Odfjell is seeking protection using the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, the victims will first have to prove to a judge that the owners of Odfell Bow Fortune had privity or knowledge of defects aboard the vessel before the families can move forward with their claims. The process can take several years.
The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 was originally intended to protect American shipping in an age of wooden sailing vessels when insurance was virtually impossible to come by. In the twenty-first century, technology allows shipping companies to stay in frequent contact with their vessels, and companies carry plentiful insurance. This antiquated law actually puts shipping companies in a position where they can collect insurance funds for damages they incur from a disaster while denying victims of the same disaster an opportunity to recoup their losses.