In the case against Carnival over a cruise ship that struck an Army Corps dredging vessel during a storm, a federal judge has declined to resolve certain facts before trial.
The M/V Carnival Triumph was moored in a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., on April 3, 2013, when a storm struck. Triumph broke free from her moorings and drifted across the Mobile River, striking the M/V Wheeler, a dredging vessel owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Contending that dredging improves federal waters for the purpose of navigation, the Unite States claimed that the court should consider such action a “work” under Section 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
This provision makes it unlawful to “impair the usefulness of any sea wall, bulkhead, jetty, dike, levee, wharf, pier or other work built by the United States.”
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade noted Friday that the parties do not dispute the “pertinent” facts on the issue, but that it is contested as to whether “strict liability sections apply to an allision with a dredging vessel, especially where the dredging vessel was under repair at the time and was far away from the location where it had been used by the Army Corps of Engineers.” The M/V Wheeler’s home port is New Orleans.
Though the United States sought summary judgment as to the purely legal question of whether Sections 408 and 412 of the Rivers and Harbors Act applies here, Judge Granade found it unclear “that Congress intended to provide strict liability for damage to dredging vessels.”
The court questioned if “other work” listed in the statute includes jobs or projects, such as dredging, or if it only included physical structures that the section lists.
A “plain reading” of this part of the statute must refer to physical structures because the specifically listed examples of “works” are all physical structures, according to the ruling.
Since the the “work” that the section described is “built” by the United States, Granade said this “implies that materials were combined to form something.”
“A dredging project or dredged waterway does not result from the combining of materials,” the ruling states.
The United States argued that dredging is necessary for the improvement of levees, piers and other structures, but the court noted that the vessel was being repaired far from where it had been used.
“To the extent the United States argues the latter, however, it has not suggested any specific pier or other physical structure that dredging done by the M/V Wheeler preserved or improved,” Granade wrote. “Such an argument carries even less weight where, as here, the M/V Wheeler was being repaired and far away from where it had been utilized by the United States at the time it was damaged.”
In conclusion, the court found that the “plain language” in Section 408 “does not provide strict liability for damage to dredging vessels, especially a dredging vessel that had been removed for repairs and was not in use at the time of the damage.”