How a 173-year-old law created for wooden ships could complicate rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore

President Joe Biden he said the government should pay for it to be rebuilt Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, but any attempt to recover some or all of the money from the company that owns the ship that went down the bridge could result in a long battle.

The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851according to a law professor who spoke with Chancethey were able to provide protection to Singapore’s Grace Ocean, owned by Dali, which had hit a bridge in a roundabout way. 1:30 am ET Tuesday and dropped it in seconds.

“I hope that the owner of the ship will start a lawsuit in federal court in the US in Maryland, under the 1851 Limitation of Liability Act, to limit his liability for the damage to the ship,” he said. Lawrence Brennanprofessor of admiralty and international maritime law at Fordham.

If Grace Ocean wanted such protection, Brennan explained, the company would have to file a lawsuit in federal court and post a bond equal to the ship’s value. If the judge approves the request, Dali’s owners will only have to pay an amount equal to the value of the ship – which is calculated after the accident. Such an amount would be billions less than the actual damages.

“This law is outdated,” Brennan said. “They were made for sailing ships, not steel ships. So it has a lot of problems, but there is a history [of cases] and it is still the law of the United States.”

That said, Brennan also believes that it is possible that the company wants to return the lawsuit, although Grace Ocean may face other debts under the guidance of the federal government and environmental laws related to other damages and removing pollution from the port. (Grace Ocean was not immediately available for comment.)

While many companies seek to settle such cases, perhaps the most famous maritime disaster ever went to court: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the Oceanic Steam Navigator, who owned the ship. he asked for protection Act of 1851. Although the courts found British law to be different from the US, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted protection.

No matter how the law is applied, it is important to find something like this it wasn’t the first big event About the Dali, which sank in 2016 in the Port of Antwerp in Belgium.

Moreover, since Tuesday’s accident happened later the boat ran out of powerThere will be a further review of the June 2023 inspection by the Tokyo MoU when the ship was docked in San Antonio, Chile, which found faults in “Drivers and assistants.” However, a similar test by the Coast Guard in September did not identify those weaknesses.

In previous cases involving large ships, known as General Average– that any losses are shared among all the partners, such as shippers, suppliers, etc. – have been used. Brennan said it was unlikely that this would happen with the Dali due to the ship’s mechanical problems, meaning that the suppliers would be able to stick to stronger claims.

“The ship owner has a responsibility to exercise due diligence to ensure that the ship is seaworthy,” Brennan added. If they don’t, they won’t heal either.

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