The carriage of hazardous goods presents a unique set of potential problems. These include compliance with various international (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code) and federal (CFR Title 46) regulations governing safe carriage, and potential claims for injury to persons or other cargoes onboard or to the vessel itself. The carrier may also face potential liability for various civil or criminal penalties, as well as criminal sanctions under CERCLA.
The firm has represented owners, operators, charterers, slot charterers, and their underwriters in serious casualties involving a variety of hazardous cargoes such as acrylonitrile, thiourea dioxide, calcium hypochlorite, and contaminated liquid parcels. In recent years, we handled a series of cases involving the violent decomposition of thiourea dioxide produced in China and shipped aboard vessels of several different operators. In one case we succeeded in settling approximately $8 million in claims for less than 10 percent, and in another, we persuaded the United States Coast Guard to completely withdraw $1.325M in civil penalties assessed against the owner. In a case involving an explosion and fire in a container of calcium hypochlorite which caused the total loss of all other cargo onboard and of the vessel itself, we sought to recover the shipowner’s losses from the shipper of the cargo. After a trial in the Southern District of New York, an appeal and remand to the Southern District, a second trial on liability, and another appeal to the Second Circuit, we successfully recovered over $28 million for our client.
As with our oil pollution and environmental practice, hazardous cargo cases frequently require the rapid deployment of a response team and experts to deal with the inevitable U.S. Coast Guard or National Transportation Safety Board inquiry, potential cleanup and pollution issues, the possibility of criminal sanctions, media, and possibly third party claims resulting from water or air pollution. Our response team assigns attorneys with the appropriate experience in these discrete areas, and we have close working relationships with qualified experts experienced with fire investigation, chemical characteristics, and handling requirements for hazardous cargoes and any damage to the environment.