The owners of the Seacor Power lift boat have filed a civil lawsuit seeking to limit their liability from the April capsizing off the coast of Port Fourchon, Louisiana that left 13 people dead or missing.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in federal court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, was filed under the Limitation of Liability Act and seeks to limit any claims related to the accident to $5.67 million, representing the total value of the vessel plus freight and supplemental personal injury.
It lists Delaware-based Falcon Global Offshore II LLC as the owner of the vessel and Seacor Marine LLC as manager/operator at the time of the accident. SEACOR Liftboats LLC is also named as an “alleged” owner/operator likely to face claims. The three entities (collectively the “Petitioners”) claim they used due diligence at all times to make and maintain the SEACOR Power as “seaworthy” and the vessel was “fit for service” prior to the incident.
“The incident was not due to any fault, neglect or want of care on the part of Petitioners or the SEACOR POWER or anyone for whom said Petitioners may be responsible,” the complaint states. “To the contrary, the Master who was in command of the SEACOR POWER on April 13, 2021 was experienced, well trained and highly competent. The weather report received by the captain on the morning of April 13, 2021 forecast afternoon winds and seas well within the SEACOR POWER’s safe operating limits, and his decision to depart the berth and proceed with the voyage was reasonable and prudent.”
The complaint further argues that the sudden change in weather was “unforeseeable” and “well beyond the predicted weather conditions.” Rather SEACOR Power’s capsizing was “a force majeure event” which the owners “could not have reasonably anticipated” and therefore they are not responsible.
The SEACOR Power capsized during a severe squall shortly after departing Port Fourchon, Louisiana on April 13 with 19 people on board. Six crew members were recovered safely following the accident. Six were recovered deceased and seven people currently remain missing.
The accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Coast Guard, however a preliminary report published last month by the NTSB revealed the SEACOR Power’s crew decided to lower the vessel’s legs to the seafloor to ride out the storm. The vessel capsized as the helmsmen was attempting to turn the Seacor Power into the wind as the legs began to descend.
The preliminary report also indicated the SEACOR Power had received an emailed weather report on the day of the accident, at approximately 7:02 a.m., about five and a half hours before it departed Port Fourchon, where it had loaded offshore equipment on its main deck prior to getting underway.
Congress passed the Limitation of Liability Act (46 U.S. Code Chapter 305) in 1851 to promote and protect the maritime shipping industry for ship and cargo losses as well as injuries or deaths at sea by limiting recoveries to the value of the vessel itself and pending freight. With the law, vessel owners could not be sued for more than the ship was worth. The law is invoked following nearly every major maritime disaster, from the Conception dive boat fire and sinking of the the El Faro to the Deepwater Horizon and even the Titantic. But some argue the Limitation Liability Act is an antiquated law that is no longer fit for purpose.
“SEACOR and the other petitioners are exploiting an antiquated 170-year-old law designed to protect American shipping in the age of wooden ships, a time before ship-to-shore radio, radar, and GPS,” said attorney Kurt Arnold, a partner at the Arnold & Itkin law firm, which handles such cases. “Now, the Limitation of Liability Act primarily protects foreign insurance companies—not American shipping interests. Let’s be crystal clear, they are suing the workers who were injured and the families of those who perished in this maritime disaster, asking the court to deny them their constitutional right to seek compensation at trial before a jury of their peers.”
Sign up for our newsletter