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Can an assisting tug be considered as the lead tug's tow?

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

A US court was recently faced with a novel question – should an assisting tug be considered as part of lead tug’s ‘TOW’.

In The Miss Dorothy [2018] one of the assisting tugs sank following an allision. Insurers of this tug brought a claim against the owners of the lead tug. P&I of the lead tug agreed to provide defense costs. The P&I Club then brought a claim against the H&M underwriters of the lead tug alleging that they had a duty to reimburse the defense costs of insured. H&M contended that hull policy (which provided coverage for damages to tow under the ‘collision and tower’s liability’ provision) does not provide coverage for the damages as the sunken tug cannot be considered as ‘tow’ or part of the flotilla. District court found against H&M. Decision was now being appealed.

The Appeals court favored H&M. They defined ‘tow’ as something that requires auxiliary motive power from another craft. In this case the lead tug was not providing any such motive power / was not pushing or pulling her in any way and therefore the tug that sank was not a ‘tow’.

An extract from the judgement - "In sum, “tow” as used in Atlantic Specialty’s policy is defined by its plain, ordinary meaning: a vessel that is provided auxiliary motive power by being pushed or pulled. A tug remains a tug when it is tugging (i.e., pushing or pulling), and a tow is a tow only when it is being towed (i.e. being pushed or pulled)."


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