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National Shipping Co. of Saudi Arabia v. Moran Trade Corp. of Del.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21504
Nos. 06-1741, -1824, 122 F.3d 1062/(4th Cir., 09/09/1997)

The court affirms a district court decision that held a tugboat owner liable under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) for $500,000 in costs incurred in cleaning up an oil spill. The court first holds that the district court did not clearly err in holding the tugboat owner negligent. The district court found that the tugboat captain had failed to exercise proper control over the vessel during the course of a maneuver, and the evidence supports this finding. The court next holds that the district court did not err by limiting the tugboat owner's liability under the OPA's damage cap. The OPA's liability cap does not apply if the party committed gross negligence or willful misconduct or violated an applicable federal safety, construction, or operating regulation. The cargo vessel owner argued that the tugboat owner's failure to provide an additional designated lookout violated the Inland Navigational Rule, a federal safety regulation. But the court determines that the district court's finding of facts concerning this issue were not clearly erroneous. It did not appear that a separate lookout would have been of much assistance to the tugboat captain. The court also concludes that the OPA prevents the cargo vessel owner from using state law to collect damages under the OPA that exceed the OPA's liability cap. The only exceptions to the OPA's liability cap are set forth in OPA §1004 itself. The cargo vessel owner read OPA §1018(a)(2) too broadly; this section only protects rights of parties to bring additional claims based on liability that accrues under state law. If a responsible party could recoup its OPA liability costs through state-law claims as well as through the OPA, the cap imposed by OPA §1004(a) would be rendered meaningless.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John R. Crumpler Jr.
Kaufman & Canoles
One Commercial Pl.
P.O. Box 3037, Norfolk VA 23514
(757) 624-3000

Counsel for Defendants
Mark T. Coberly
Vandeventer, Black, Meredith & Martin
500 World Trade Ctr., Norfolk VA 23510
(757) 446-8600

Before Hall, Michael, and Tilley, JJ.