Hurricane Sandy caused a replica of the HMS BOUNTY to sink off North Carolina coast yesterday. A crewmember died and the captain is missing.
Reports now indicate that the vessel sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia bound for St. Petersburg, Florida to participate in a tall ships event. The decision to sail was made despite weather forecasts predicting the huge storm system now infamously known as Sandy. A skipper of another tall ship which was contemplating departure from the East Coast at the same time as the BOUNTY has indicated that the decision to sail was negligent. The weather forecast was so ominous that a decision to wait out the storm was “very simple.” If so, sailing into the teeth of the storm was at least negligent if not reckless.
It may be expected that the family of the deceased crewmember will assert a maritime wrongful death claim under the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. This is a case in which the vessel owner is likely to petition for limitation of liability. If so, the question will be whether the fateful decision to sail was made “within the privity or knowledge” of the shipowner. If not, the claimants’ recovery will be limited to the value of the wrecked BOUNTY and her pending freight, if any.
Experienced maritime plaintiff’s counsel will likely be able to establish negligence and/or unseaworthiness of the vessel. It is also probable that the shipowner’s plea for limitation of liability will be denied. It is likely the owner had some input regarding the negligent decision to sail, and there may well be other grounds for liability which were within the owners “privity or knowledge.” Any defect in the vessel that contributed to cause the tragedy and was either known, or should have in the exercise of due diligence have been known to the owner, will defeat a claim for limitation of liability.
Anderson Carey Alexander is a maritime law firm serving injured seamen and the families of those lost at sea. We have represented clients in shipwreck cases for over three decades. We are available for consultation at 1-800-BOATLAW. and can be visited on the web at boatlaw.com.