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Old 6th September 2019, 06:36 PM   #1
Ranb
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Limitation of Liability Act of 1851

The sinking of the MV Conception near Santa Cruz Island was an eye opener to my regarding the limits of liability for maritime accidents.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_of_MV_Conception
Quote:
On the night of the fire, a crew member awoke to the sound of a pop in the dark and believed it to be a disoriented crew member or passenger. Upon leaving his bed to attempt to aid the individual, he discovered an uncontrollable fire in the ship's galley.[10] Two mayday calls were placed at approximately 3:15 am from the wheelhouse of the Conception.[13][14] Five of the six crew members leapt into the ocean from the wheelhouse deck over the bow to escape the fire, retrieved an inflatable dinghy from the stern, and paddled approximately 200 yards (180 m) to the only boat moored nearby, The Grape Escape.[7][14] The ship's captain, who was among the five survivors, said the escape hatch at the stern was engulfed in fire and the surviving crew could do nothing to help the passengers
Quote:
The company also filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Central District of California, claiming limited liability under Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The suit, if shown that Truth Aquatics was not liable for the accident, would limit Truth Aquatic's damages only to the value of the ship, thus preventing any damages to be issued against them by the families of the victims should they file suit. It would also reduce the length of time that these families would have to counter Truth Aquatic's claims. This practice is common in maritime accidents.[38] The settlements would be tied up in this limitation of liability proceeding.[39]
I did not know that liability for accidents at sea could be limited so much. I read elsewhere that liability for the Titanic sinking was limited to the value of the surviving lifeboats.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limita...ty_Act_of_1851

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Old 6th September 2019, 07:14 PM   #2
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I suppose in a way this makes a certain amount of sense, since sea voyages are inherently hazardous; the operator of a boat that is sunk by a rogue wave, surprise storm, or some other sea or weather condition that was not within anybody's ability to reliably predict or cope with should not have to pay millions of dollars to the families or estates of dead crew or passengers.

The act requires that the disaster must've been beyond the operator's control. I think that's a sufficient safeguard. Something like the Costa Concordia accident wouldn't be covered by it if it happened in US territorial boundaries.
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Old 8th September 2019, 04:13 AM   #3
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They had a boat with no emergency exits in case of fire with thirty people on board. It would unbelievable if they get away with that just because it's on water. On land there would be no question of fire safety laws.
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Old 8th September 2019, 04:31 PM   #4
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https://www.latimes.com/california/s...for-passengers
Quote:
National Transportation and Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy told The Times she was “taken aback” by the size of the emergency hatch when she toured the Vision — an 80-foot sister vessel to the Conception.
Does Homendy inspect many small ships like the Conception?

Quote:
Both boats are owned by Truth Aquatics, which operates the fleet for diving and other excursions around the Channel Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard has said the Conception had passed all recent inspections.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/46/177.500
Quote:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, each space accessible to passengers or used by the crew on a regular basis, must have at least two means of escape, one of which must not be a watertight door.

(b) The two required means of escape must be widely separated and, if possible, at opposite ends or sides of the space to minimize the possibility of one incident blocking both escapes.
The above link goes into detail about the means of escape.

Last edited by Ranb; 8th September 2019 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 8th September 2019, 04:55 PM   #5
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There are many regulations written in blood, on land and on the sea. I served in the "Subsafe" Navy. When I reported on board my first submarine, the USS Tautog, I was amazed at the number of hull penetrations and seawater systems. The thing is, the entire Permit and Sturgeon classes of submarines were designed prior to the 1963 sinking of the Thresher which initiated the Subsafe program; it changed the design and inspection criteria of submarines and seawater systems.

But the Navy was slow to learn like any large organization. With the 1963 sinking of the USS Thresher, the Subsafe program was initiated. But the USS Scoprion sunk in 1968 with little or no Subsafe program improvements made to her.

When I asked about the many seawater penetrations and systems, one of the older guys told me I was seeing the latest and greatest the USN had to offer in this class of subs. It wasn't until the 688 class was designed that it could be done with subsafe in mind. Each class of sub is radically improved from the class before; one can tell just by walking through the engineering spaces.

The MV Conception was built in 1981 and according to the Wikipedia article was in compliance with regulations dating back to 1978. Updating a small ship like the Conception is not cheap, but lives are not cheap either.
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Old 8th September 2019, 05:44 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
They had a boat with no emergency exits in case of fire with thirty people on board. It would unbelievable if they get away with that just because it's on water. On land there would be no question of fire safety laws.
It's the Coast Guard's job to enforce those regulations. If they passed their last inspection, that means the USCG found they had all the proper exits.

My understanding is both exits ended up being blocked by the fire? Which is pretty easy to believe considering the visual state of the hulk. As Ranb points out, the rules encourage that the at-least-two exits be as far away from each other as possible so that a fire that blocks one won't necessarily block the other; but this wasn't a giant boat, and it looks like the fire engulfed the entire deck.
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Old 9th September 2019, 04:07 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
It's the Coast Guard's job to enforce those regulations. If they passed their last inspection, that means the USCG found they had all the proper exits.
.....
Press reports say the boat was inspected regularly and met Coast Guard regulations. That doesn't mean that the regulations were adequate. The emergency exit apparently was narrow, difficult to access and required climbing on top of a bunk bed, and both exits led up into the galley, where the fire apparently started. This can't possibly be the best way to do this.
https://www.latimes.com/california/s...-investigation
https://laist.com/2019/09/03/concept...ruz_island.php
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Old 10th September 2019, 12:24 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Bob001 View Post
Press reports say the boat was inspected regularly and met Coast Guard regulations. That doesn't mean that the regulations were adequate. The emergency exit apparently was narrow, difficult to access and required climbing on top of a bunk bed, and both exits led up into the galley, where the fire apparently started. This can't possibly be the best way to do this.
https://www.latimes.com/california/s...-investigation
https://laist.com/2019/09/03/concept...ruz_island.php

The emergency exit according to the regulations has to lead up to the deck, doesn't it? I know space is precious on a boat, but isn't that number of people sleeping on a boat that size an issue as well?
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Old 10th September 2019, 12:13 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
The emergency exit according to the regulations has to lead up to the deck, doesn't it? I know space is precious on a boat, but isn't that number of people sleeping on a boat that size an issue as well?

Again according to the press reports, the bunk space was two levels down from the top deck; the galley was over that space. Any exit from the bunk space would need to pass through the next level to get to the top.
Quote:
The sleeping quarters for the passengers was one floor below the galley. The boat was equipped with an emergency escape hatch between the sleeping quarters and the galley, which may have been blocked by the flames.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/09/u...se-a.-del-real

Last edited by Bob001; 10th September 2019 at 12:24 PM.
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Old 10th September 2019, 12:14 PM   #10
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Hey, mods, this thread is really about the terrible boat fire, not arcane maritime law. Any chance of adjusting the title?
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Old 10th September 2019, 02:09 PM   #11
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https://www.foxnews.com/us/conceptio...escue-attempts
Quote:
The owners of the California dive boat where 34 people died in a fire over the weekend have filed a lawsuit to avoid liability in the case, as investigators say the crew of the ship made several attempts to save victims who were trapped by the blaze.

Truth Aquatics Inc. filed suit Thursday in Los Angeles federal court under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability.

The suit said the company and owners Glen and Dana Fritzler “used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged.”
https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/th...of-1851-23620/
Quote:
In 1912, a vessel owner by the name of White Star Lines invoked a little understood U.S. maritime law to limit its liability arising out of a maritime disaster. In 2010, a vessel owner by the name of Transocean invoked the same law. The respective vessels were the S.S. TITANTIC and the MODU DEEPWATER HORIZON. And on countless other occasions, shipping and vessel owning energy companies have sought protection under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 (46 U.S.C. §30501 et seq.). Whether a vessel owner can successfully limit its liability is always a hotly contested issue; and current trends in the offshore energy industry may make this more difficult.
There are limitations to the law. If the owner of the vessel knows of deficient conditions aboard, then they are not as well protected by the law.

Last edited by Ranb; 10th September 2019 at 02:15 PM.
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Old 10th September 2019, 02:36 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Ranb View Post
,,,

There are limitations to the law. If the owner of the vessel knows of deficient conditions aboard, then they are not as well protected by the law.
But if the boat is regularly inspected and approved by the Coast Guard, it will be hard to prove that the owners should have known of deficient conditions, especially if similar conditions are standard practice at similar boats.
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Old 12th September 2019, 11:30 AM   #13
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Preliminary NTSB report says boat did not have a night watch on duty, as required by regulations.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/12/polit...tch/index.html
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Old 12th September 2019, 11:32 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Ranb View Post
Updating a small ship like the Conception is not cheap, but lives are not cheap either.
If they can get this act to cover their rears they may be quite cheap indeed.
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Old 12th September 2019, 12:45 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Ranb View Post
There are many regulations written in blood, on land and on the sea. I served in the "Subsafe" Navy. When I reported on board my first submarine, the USS Tautog, I was amazed at the number of hull penetrations and seawater systems. The thing is, the entire Permit and Sturgeon classes of submarines were designed prior to the 1963 sinking of the Thresher which initiated the Subsafe program; it changed the design and inspection criteria of submarines and seawater systems.

But the Navy was slow to learn like any large organization. With the 1963 sinking of the USS Thresher, the Subsafe program was initiated. But the USS Scoprion sunk in 1968 with little or no Subsafe program improvements made to her.

When I asked about the many seawater penetrations and systems, one of the older guys told me I was seeing the latest and greatest the USN had to offer in this class of subs. It wasn't until the 688 class was designed that it could be done with subsafe in mind. Each class of sub is radically improved from the class before; one can tell just by walking through the engineering spaces.

The MV Conception was built in 1981 and according to the Wikipedia article was in compliance with regulations dating back to 1978. Updating a small ship like the Conception is not cheap, but lives are not cheap either.
This whole thing is reminiscent of not enough lifeboats on the Titanic.
The problem was the the lifeboat regs in force in 1912 were written quite a few years before, when passenger ships were much smaller then the huge liners of 1912.
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Old 12th September 2019, 12:47 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Bob001 View Post
Preliminary NTSB report says boat did not have a night watch on duty, as required by regulations.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/12/polit...tch/index.html

That's it;all the government needs is one violation of the regulation to lower the boom on whoever owned that boat. The company or individual is toast.
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Old 12th September 2019, 03:26 PM   #17
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Here in Sacramento, apparently the state legislature is going to have hearings on the Conception tragedy, and what changes can be made to state law to prevent this happening again.It's probably more of an issue for federal law and federal maritime regulations, but I would not be surprised if some change all across the board result.
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Old 12th September 2019, 03:37 PM   #18
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My understanding is that it is very difficult for the states to have much impact on maritime laws.
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Old 12th September 2019, 05:13 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Dr. Keith View Post
My understanding is that it is very difficult for the states to have much impact on maritime laws.
Especially if there's gold fringe on the flag.
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