Judge rules both captains negligent in Mississippi River collision that caused $1.1 million in damages

By Charmaine Little | May 6, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – Both captains were negligent in a vessel collision that caused more than $1 million in damages, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana determined on April 2.

While Deloach Marine Services LLC sued Marquette Transportation Co. LLC for the damages its M/V Vanport vessel suffered as a result of a collision with Marquette’s M/V Justin Paul Eckstein, the court said both captains of the vessels at the time of the incident had a level of responsibility. 

The collision took place on the Mississippi River after an alleged misunderstanding between the two captains via radio. Billy Jackson was the captain of the Justin and Matthew Vidrine was the captain of the Vanport.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance, who ruled on the case April 2, found Marquette to be in fault of 70 percent of the damages, and Deloach for 30 percent.

U.S. District Court Sarah S. Vance  

“The court credits both captains’ testimony and finds that they had two conflicting interpretations of the radio exchange,” Vance wrote. "It also finds that the differing understandings of the radio exchange led the captains to proceed into the same spot in the river at the same time, each thinking that the other vessel would stay clear."

The damages the owner of Vanport’s cargo, Ingram, suffered was $1.1 million. Deloach reimbursed Ingram, but then said that the defendant was also negligent and responsible. The court said both were at fault.

“First, the Justin’s decision to perform the top around and maneuver in front of oncoming traffic created the unsafe circumstances that led to the collision,” Vance wrote. "Both parties agree that the Vanport had the right of way as the down bound vessel."

Vance added that the Justin would have waited until it was clear, especially knowing that the Vanport would be moving nearby after it made an agreement with a nearby vessel, the Beatrice. The Justin was also responsible for not having a clear form of communication to turn in front of the Vanport, the ruling states. 

“The Justin had an obligation, as the vessel moving out into the channel in front of down bound boat traffic, to clearly communicate its intentions,” Vance wrote.

Vance wrote Vanport was negligent when the captain agreed via radio that the Justin could top around before the Vanport itself passed the Justin, especially because the Vanport was a mile up river at the time of the communication.

Ultimately, both captains caused the collision after they violated Rule 2 of the Pennsylvania Rule, which according to the court says, “[n]othing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.”

The court also found Justin also violated Rule 14(d), which says that a power-driven vessel going down bound following a current should have the right-of-way, meaning that the Vanport had the right-of-way, and the Justin should have waited before maneuvering.

While neither captain was found in violation of Rule 5 which urges a proper look-out at all times, Vance did say that both captains violated Rules 7 and 8. Rule 7 says captains have to use “all available means…to determine if risk of collision exists,” and Rule 8 says that captains have to take the necessary action to prevent a run-in with another vessel.

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