Companies in fatal tugboat accident file three federal suits

March 06, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A week after the fatal collision between a freighter and a flotilla of tugboats and barges on the Elk River, three lawsuits have been filed in federal court by companies involved in the incident.

Norfolk Dredging Co. of Chesapeake, Va., has filed two suits, one in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and the other in Norfolk. The suits seek a total of $30 million in damages as a result of the accident, in which the captain of its tugboat Swift and three crewmen died.

The suits center around the events leading to the collision Feb. 25 of the freighter A.V. Kastner, owned by Gypsum Transportation, a Bermuda company, and a flotilla of barges, tugs and dredge equipment.

Buchanan 14, owned by Buchanan Maritime of New Haven, Conn., was leading the flotilla up the Elk River to a job in Delaware City, Del. The Kastner was heading south en route to Baltimore.

The convoy and freighter had to pass one another about 1 1/2 miles south of the western entrance of the C&D Canal.

One of Norfolk Dredging's suits, filed Friday in Baltimore, accuses the Kastner of "failing to keep a proper lookout," "failing to keep control of the vessel" and traveling too fast for the foggy weather conditions. The Kastner, which was in radio contact with the Buchanan 14, did not stick to its agreed upon port-to-port passing route with the tug, the suit says, adding that the freighter appeared on the right side of the tug instead of the left, causing the Buchanan to make "a hard turn to port to avoid direct collision." The Kastner hit a dredge barge, and the tug Swift, the suit says.

The dredging company also filed suit in Norfolk on Friday, alleging that the Buchanan 14 "failed to perform its towing agreement in a workmanlike manner," was not "in the charge of competent persons," and "failed to properly handle" the dredge barge and the Swift.

A third suit, filed Monday in Baltimore by Buchanan Maritime, seeks a minimum of $100,000 in damages from the Kastner and Gypsum Transportation. It also alleges the freighter came upon the tug on the starboard side and accuses the Kastner of negligence.

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