DHBC mounts $1B+ lawsuit against Panamanian company over recent collision

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Repair works being conducted to the Demerara Harbour Bridge

The Demerara Habour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) has filed an over-a-billion-dollar lawsuit against the vessel—MT Tradewind Passion—which collided with the floating structure on October 8, rendering it inoperable for just over two days and resulted in a $1 billion repair bill.

The vessel is owned by Canama Trading S De RL, a company registered in Panama.

In its Statement of Claim (SoC) filed at the Demerara High Court, the DHBC said that the collision caused $1 billion and counting in damages and that there has been no compensation despite several oral requests demanding payment of the sum.

As such, the corporation is seeking $50 million in damages for negligence since the master of the vessel was negligent by not exercising the relevant international safety conventions for safety at sea. It said that the master did not apply the applicable speed necessary in the prevailing circumstances. Due to the negligence of the master and the vessel’s crew, the DHBC complained that it has suffered and will continue to suffer extensive losses.

According to the DHBC, the vessel’s master was negligent since he failed to sail at a safe speed; failed to report difficulties being encountered upon approaching the bridge; and failed to use reasonable care and skill in its operation so that the fuel tanker could veer away from, thereby avoiding collision with the bridge. At the time, the vessel was under the control and command of Captain Freddy Mendoza, advised by Pilot Kenneth Cort, who a Board of Inquiry (BoI) into the collision has recommended be suspended for not less than 24 months.

Apart from damages for negligence, the DHBC is further seeking special damages of $1 billion; interest under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act; such further or other order or relief the court deems just; as well as costs.

Reports indicate that at around 02:00h on October 8, the vessel which transports fuel for the Guyana Oil Company (GuyOil), while heading south, crashed into the Demerara Habour Bridge, despite desperate calls to ‘drop anchor’ from the Shift Supervisor Andy Duke.
Duke, who was in one of the lookout towers, tried desperately to communicate with the pilot without success. He eventually had to jump from the booth to save his own life. He fractured his leg in the process and was hospitalised. The other men who were working at the bottom of the bridge, including Mechanical Maintenance Engineer Ahmad Khan, had to run for their lives.

In its particulars of special damages, the DHBC, among other things, listed the cost for anchorage parts including buoys, sheaves, anchor chains, shackles, and wire rope.
Also included was the cost of structural components parts including connecting posts, junction pins, panels, sway braces, sway brace bolts and nuts, and deck plates. It is also claiming money for toll revenue loss from October 8 to 10, labour, and meals and refreshments for workers. The DHBC is also suing for projected works it will have to carry out on the bridge.

The claim was filed by PPP/C parliamentarian, Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin.

The vessel has been detained as the DHBC’s General Manager, Wayne Watson, in an affidavit, deposed that he believes it will be removed from Guyana before the lawsuit is determined.

But Canama Trading S De RL contended that the detention of the vessel, without an application pursuant to Section 439 (1) of Guyana’s Shipping Act being made to the court, constitutes a wrongful and unlawful deprivation, detention, interference with, trespass upon, restraint, or imprisonment of its property and the crew of the vessel. An application has since been made to the High Court for a warrant of arrest to be issued against the ship.

Canama Trading S De RL argued that the detention of the vessel is unlawful as it was done without or in excess of jurisdiction, without reasonable grounds, and not in compliance with statutes and the Constitution of Guyana. As such, it is suing the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), Harbour Master Glasford Archer, and the DHBC for more than $100,000.

The company said that the vessel is under charter to GuyOil, operating between Trinidad and Guyana, and remains under the instruction of GuyOil for at least another year. Considering this, it argued that there were no reasonable grounds for concluding that the vessel would imminently depart the jurisdiction and therefore wants it to be released immediately. It said that the DHBC has refused to accept full and valuable security it has offered and continues to offer.

The company is claiming loss of use of the vessel at a daily rate of US$12,250.

Canama Trading S De RL has also made an urgent application to the High Court to argue limitation of liability pursuant to Section 402 of Guyana’s Shipping Act as a defence to the DHBC’s lawsuit.

In that application, it is seeking an order that it be entitled to constitute a limitation fund under Section 414 (1) of the Shipping Act by paying or lodging with the court, as security, $244,944,006.21 plus interest thereon at the rate of four per cent per annum from October 8 to the date of the constitution of the fund. According to the company, it reserves all rights to contest any sums claimed by the DHBC, whether on grounds of failure to mitigate, or otherwise.

The collision caused extensive damage to critical components of the Demerara Harbour Bridge, which not only left it inoperable but resulted in thousands of passengers and tons of agricultural produce stranded on both sides of the Demerara River.

While repairs were being carried out on the bridge which was reopened on October 10, water taxis which normally operate for 12 hours, were allowed to work for 24 hours. Given the psychological impact the collision has had on the bridge’s staff who were on duty at the time, with some of them still heavily traumatised, the BoI said that clinical interventions may be needed.