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If staying at berth in heavy weather, then vessel's mooring analysis better be accurate

If a hurricane is about to hit the port, it is safer for vessels to unberth. If the decision is made to stay alongside then the managers better be sure about the capabilities of her moorings. In The DPDS 1 [2022], a drillship broke free from her moorings causing extensive damage as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017. Her owners were claiming against the tugs that were contracted to keep DPDS 1 in position.

Owners of DPDS 1 were aware of Hurricane Harvey approaching and its own engineering department recommended leaving the port three days prior Harvey making landfall. DPDS 1 nonetheless stayed alongside, and the owners contracted with two tugs to keep her in position. Her mooring analysis was based on a 20 line system wherein the information on the kind of lines used was inaccurate, in terms of size, material and strength. As the Hurricane hit the port, she broke from her moorings. In the process five vessels and two structures sustained damages – DPDS 1, two other rigs, two tugs tasked to hold DPDS 1 in position, and two piers.

Owners of DPS 1 and the tugs claimed that other's negligence proximately caused the damages resulting from the DPDS1's breakaway. The tug owners claimed that DPDS 1 failed to act swiftly to evacuate the rig from the port and that it had an inadequate mooring system that was not capable to face the storm. DPDS 1’s owners argued that the tug boats failed to fulfill their contractual obligations, and in any case hurricane was an Act of God. They were also trying to limit their liability.

Generally, in cases involving storms, a court determines whether the vessel owner took reasonable precautions under the circumstances as known or reasonably to be anticipated. Here the court concluded:

  • DPDS 1’s owners failed to take reasonable precautions and in anticipating the effect of hurricane Harvey.

  • Their assessment failed on two important points – the mooring system’s strength and hurricane’s force & path.

  • Decision makers in owner’s management knew that they possessed inaccurate information about the mooring system.

  • Not acting on engineering department’s recommendation showed a lack of urgency and appreciation of the dangers.

  • On the Act of God defence of DPDS 1’s owners, the court found that they failed to take reasonable precautions and thus cannot rely on such a defence.

The court allocated full responsibility to DPDS 1’s owners.

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