As widely expected, the owners of the capsized liftboat SEACOR Power have filed suit seeking to limit their liability in the fatal April 13 incident in which all but six of the crew of 19 aboard the vessel died or are presumed dead.
In a Verified Complaint in Limitation, filed June 2, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Falcon Global Offshore II LLC, SEACOR Marine LLC and SEACOR Liftboats LLC (the petitioners) are seeking to limit their liability under the Limitation of Shipowners Liability Act.
The act allows a vessel owner to file limit its liability for damages to the value of the vessel involved in the occurrence and any freight pending. It also allows all suits brought against the owner in a case, including those brought in state courts, to be consolidated in one federal court and for a time limit to be set for the filing of further suits.
In the filing the petitioners assert that the loss of the vessel “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. 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 voyage proceeded uneventfully for several hours until the weather suddenly and drastically deteriorated to a degree that was unforeseeable and well beyond the predicted weather conditions. Within a matter of minutes, the SEACOR POWER encountered heavy seas and hurricane force winds. Efforts were made to jack down the legs of the SEACOR POWER and turn the Vessel into the winds, but before the legs could be lowered to the sea floor, the SEACOR POWER was overcome by forces of nature. The SEACOR POWER’s capsizing was a force majeure event which Petitioners could not have reasonably anticipated and for which Petitioners are not responsible.”
In the filing, the petitioners list 12 suits as having been filed in the matter and say that they have been made aware that other individuals have retained counsel and may bring claims in the future.
They say the sum total of the suits is expected to exceed the value of the SEACOR Power and its freight pending.
According to documents filed by the petitioners, the SEACOR Power had a scrap value following the capsize of not more than $650,000, while the total hire or pending freight for the voyage in question was $4,072,500.
“In addition,” says the filing, “pursuant to 46 USC § 30506, the death and personal injury claims fund of $420 per gross registered ton produces an increase in the limitation fund” of $955,920.
The filing submits for court approval a letter of undertaking from insurer Skuld in the sum of $5,678,420, plus interest at six percent (6%) per annum from the date of the letter of undertaking, According to the filing, this represents the total value of the SEACOR Power and her appurtenances, plus freight pending, plus the supplemental personal injury fund.
Should the court approve, in the event the owners be found liable and the $5,678,420 not be sufficient to pay all losses in full, then “all claimants shall be made to share pro rata in the aforesaid sum represented by the Letter of Undertaking, saving to all such claimants any rights of priority they may have as ordered by this Honorable Court, or as provided by the aforesaid statutes, by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including the Supplemental Admiralty Rules, the General Maritime Law, and by the rules and practices of this Honorable Court.”