Court: MSC Not Liable for Losses from MSC Flaminia Fatal Fire

MSC FlaminiaImage Courtesy: HAVARIECOMMANDO/Central Command for Maritime Emergencies Germany

MSC, the Swiss ocean carrier, is not liable for the explosion and losses related to the MSC Flaminia fire from July 2012 that claimed the lives of three crew members and destroyed thousands of cargo containers, New York District Court said in a verdict on September 10.

The court said that two parties bear the responsibility for the incident, those being Deltech, and Stolt Tank Containers B.V. (Stolt).

Daltech is the manufacturer of the DVB80, a chemical contained in a container aboard the MSC Flaminia, that autopolymerized, and ignited by a spark, causing the explosion and fire.

Stolt, as the entity that booked transport aboard the Flaminia, was responsible for trucking the DVB to New Orleans Terminal (NOT).

The court said that Deltech was strictly liable for the loss as well as for general negligence and breach of contract.

“Contrary to their own safety protocols developed after prior polymerization incidents that determined that shipping DVB out of New Orleans should be avoided in warmer months, Deltech booked the shipment of DVB80 out of New Orleans for late June. This fateful decision was the result of—at the very least—a combination of a considered decision at the highest levels of Deltech and managerial errors that followed,” the court said in a ruling.

What is more, Daltech has been rendered responsible for allowing the containers to sit stagnant in the hot New Orleans sun, at ambient temperatures exceeding the recommended 30ºC (85ºF)7) for several days longer than necessary. These two decisions most directly led to the auto-polymerization, the ruling said.

“Deltech therefore bears significant responsibility for the losses flowing from the explosion,” the court declared, saying the company was 55% responsible for the incident.

Stolt, Deltech’s non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) is also strictly liable, according to the ruling, as it breached its duty to warn, and is liable under principles of general negligence and for breaches of contractual obligations.

The court assigned Stolt with 45 % responsibility, due to its failure to inform MSC to the dangers of heat exposure to the particular cargo in Tanks I, J, and K; and for arranging loading of the DVB into ISO containers earlier than it should have.

MSC is not liable for the loss, the court ruled, saying that although MSC possessed substantial information regarding the heat sensitive nature of DVB before the Flaminia voyage, it lacked sufficient information on the exposure of the said vessel tanks to conditions that transformed them into ticking time bombs.

“MSC’s actions were consistent with industry practice, its prior practices, and the reasonable (versus unreasonable) expectations of the parties,” the ruling reads.

“Stolt and Deltech are incorrect in their positions that generalized knowledge MSC possessed regarding DVB’s heat sensitive nature eliminates Stolt’s responsibility to effectively warn MSC about known dangers for these particular ISO containers (out of thousands upon thousands of cargo containers it was carrying) or shifts the burden to MSC.”

The vessel owner Conti and its operator NSB were also cleared from responsibility for losses as the vessel was in sound condition when provided and the crew was properly trained.

As such, the financial responsibility for the cargo loss was assigned to Stolt and Deltech.

The German-flagged container vessel was in international waters in the Atlantic Ocean, when it was hit by the explosion and fire. The process of deciding where to accommodate the vessel took two months and resulted in the ship being finally accommodated in a place of refuge in Germany in September 2012.

World Maritime News Staff

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