Cargo Ship Owner Seeks $44 Million Liability Limit

Claim Bridge Collapse Was Not Due to Ship’s Neglect
Wreckage removal of Key Bridge
The fallen Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 31, when divers assisted crews with the complicated and meticulous operation of removing steel and concrete. (Mike Pesoli/Associated Press)

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The owner of the ship that rammed into a bridge in Baltimore last week, killing six workers and throwing the eastern U.S. transportation network into chaos, is seeking to limit its liability to about $43.7 million.

The company, Grace Ocean, could face hundreds of millions of dollars in damage claims, legal experts say. On April 1 it filed a petition jointly with Synergy Marine, which was operating the Singapore-flagged ship. They claim the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge was “not due to any fault, neglect or want of care” of the companies and that they shouldn’t be held liable for any loss or damage from the disaster.

But if they are held liable, it shouldn’t be for more than the current value of the ship and its cargo, they said. Following the crash, the total value has fallen from as much as $90 million to $43,670,000, according to the filing in federal court in Maryland.

The petition is a common move for ship owners in the wake of catastrophic crashes like the one in Baltimore. It invokes a 19th-century law once used by the Titanic’s owner to reduce the ship owner’s liability after a crash to the value of the ship and any pending freight.

The companies said they expect the liability limit they are seeking to be “substantially less than the amount that has been or will be claimed” in losses or damages.

The petition comes less than a week after the March 26 crash and as parts of the ship remain stuck at the site of the accident.

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