Owners of Ship that Took Down Baltimore Bridge Respond, Turn to 'Titanic' Law

Owners of Ship that Took Down Baltimore Bridge Respond, Turn to 'Titanic' Law

Last week, a maritime mishap involving a container ship colliding with Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge resulted in its collapse and the tragic loss of six workers.

The incident has prompted the ship's owner, Grace Ocean Private Limited based in Singapore, and its management firm, Synergy Marine Group from Hong Kong, to seek judicial intervention to limit their financial obligations regarding the disaster.

They have turned to the U.S. federal court with a petition grounded in the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a piece of legislation historically known for its application in the aftermath of the Titanic catastrophe, as reported by the U.K. Independent.

This antiquated law notably shielded the Titanic's owning company, White Star Line, from financial ruin by capping liability to the ship's value post-voyage, provided the owners weren't at fault.

In a notable legal battle culminating in a Supreme Court decision, White Star Line managed to settle the claims for a fraction of the demanded sums, totaling $664,000 out of the $16 million initially sought, the Independent elaborates.

In the contemporary context of the Baltimore bridge disaster, the companies have filed their petition in Maryland's Northern Division of the United States District Court, asserting that the Dali — the vessel in question — is worth no more than $90 million.

They've tallied the repair and salvage expenses at approximately $47.5 million, thereby pegging their potential liability at about $42.5 million. Crucially, their filing argues the accident wasn't due to negligence on the part of the ship's owner, crew, or any associated parties, thereby seeking to confine any claims for damages strictly within the jurisdiction of a Baltimore district court.

The incident has rekindled discussions around the robustness of American infrastructure, with notable figures like Ian Firth, a renowned British bridge designer, critiquing the bridge's vulnerabilities exposed by the collision.

Meanwhile, the repair and potential reconstruction of the bridge are projected by PBS News Hour to extend over several years with costs estimated between $400 million to $800 million. In light of the urgent need for infrastructure repair, the Biden administration has earmarked a $60 million emergency fund to aid Maryland's recovery efforts.

The incident has also sparked comments from government officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who emphasized holding any liable private entities accountable for the costs incurred beyond the initial emergency funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board is currently leading the investigation into the cause of the collision, underscoring the ongoing scrutiny and the broader implications for maritime law and infrastructure safety.

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