US courts continue to rule against physical fuel suppliers in the ongoing saga following the financial collapse of OW Bunker & Trading A/S. Separate courts in three leading maritime judicial circuits recently ruled that physical bunker suppliers contracted by OW Bunker to provide fuel to vessels were not entitled to maritime liens against the vessels. More decisions on this issue are expected at both the district and appellate court levels.
The collapse of OW Bunker A/S and its worldwide subsidiaries left a multitude of creditors seeking other methods of collecting payment for fuel ordered on credit by OW Bunker and delivered to numerous vessels. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently ruled that a fuel supplier that had contracted with OW Bunker to provide fuel to a vessel was not entitled to a maritime lien against this vessel.
When an accident occurs on a vessel, an investigation is necessary to determine what happened, how it happened and how it can be prevented from happening in the future. A company can create a safer workplace while reducing its claim exposure by developing a plan to ensure that the documents generated during the investigative process are helpful in preventing a future accident while preserving its ability to defend a claim against an injured party.
Oil spills are a risk regardless of how safe and well trained your crew is. The federal government has developed a plan for responding to spill incidents and it is important to have a company plan that provides a response procedure that allows the government to be notified, manages the company's response to the incident and allows the government and the company to work together to minimise the effect of the spill.
Shipping companies attempt to minimise risk in a number of ways. However, despite best attempts to minimise exposure, 'acts of God' may occur that are beyond their control and that could cause damage for which they may be responsible. Nevertheless, some advance planning and an analysis of hurricane procedures could protect shipping companies from future liability.
The US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri recently held that punitive damages are available under general maritime law in unseaworthiness actions. The court followed a recent Supreme Court ruling which stated that the common-law tradition of punitive damages extends to maritime claims unless Congress has enacted a federal statute restricting its application.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has affirmed a district court order holding that in rem claims asserted under admiralty jurisdiction filed in the same complaint as in personam claims asserted in diversity must be tried together before a jury when the plaintiff clearly expresses its intent that the in personam claims be premised on diversity jurisdiction rather than in admiralty.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently held that a violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act − failure to report immediately a hazardous condition to the nearest Coast Guard office − is a continuing offence and venue is proper in any district in which such offence began, continued or is completed.