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Interesting Lawsuit

Jan 1, 2003

An interesting lawsuit involving a collision case was settled in a Mobile, Ala., courtroom recently. The situation involved a civil suit brought by the owners of a sailboat against the owners of a U.S.-flag tug and barge which collided with the sailboat, causing it to sink, in waters northeast of Hispaniola near the Mona Passage in August 1995.

The sloop Fingal, a 34-foot Bruce Roberts design, was eastbound in a 25-knot southeast breeze bound for Ponce, Puerto Rico. The tug Caribe Pioneer, a 126-foot, 3,000-hp single-screw tug towing a 300-foot deck barge, was headed southeast at nine knots. The collision took place in early afternoon.

The tug's mate, on watch in the wheelhouse at the time, said he first saw the sailboat when it was abeam on the starboard side at a range of about 1,400 feet. He reported he next saw the sailboat when it was alongside the barge some 2,000 feet astern. The sailboat's skipper reported he had gone belowdecks possibly 10 minutes prior to the collision and was not on deck when it happened. He and a companion subsequently abandoned the vessel, which was taking on water, and were rescued by another sailboat. The owner later filed suit against the tug's operator, seeking damages of $310,000. This past summer a jury returned a judgment that the tug's operator should pay about $100,000 in damages, since the tug was considered to be 61% responsible for the accident. The sailboat was presumed to have sunk.

Contributed by Warren Norville