PageLines- bg2.jpgTyler writes from Charleston County,

“Dear Mr. Cooper, if a channel buoy breaks away and afterward an oil tanker runs aground causing an oil spill because of the missing buoy, who would bear the legal responsibility?”

Good question, Tyler. Under normal circumstances the ship and her owners and operators would be expected to navigate the channel without running aground even if one or more channel buoys drift off station. The first inquiry can be expected to center on determining the cause of the casualty. Was the grounding caused by the missing buoy or was it caused by the inattention or negligence of those operating the vessel?

Tyler inquires further. “If the cause of the casualty was the missing buoy, would the government be responsible?”

Another good question, Tyler. Generally, the government has no responsibility to mark channels. However, once the government undertakes the job of marking a channel, it must use reasonable care in carrying out that function. Therefore, if the government marked the channel and if the government knew that vessels relied upon the buoy when transiting the area, and if the government knew that the buoy was missing, then the government has a legal duty under the general maritime law to use reasonable care to replace the marker or to warn mariners of the missing buoy. If the government breaches its duty and that breach causes the casualty, then the government will be held liable for its negligence.

Daniel asks, “If the Coast Guard knew for a long time that its marker buoy was missing and published a notice to mariners, but did not replace the buoy, would the Coast Guard be held liable?”

The prompt publication of a notice to mariners would usually be sufficient to exonerate the Coast Guard. If the operators of the vessel did not consult the notice to mariners before transiting the channel, then the operators may be found negligent. Of course, it is possible that more than one party may be found negligent under the circumstances. Under maritime law, if more than one party is found negligent, then each is liable for resulting damage in proportion to his percentage of negligence.

More next week on The Admiralty Docket. Until then, remember your rights and responsibilities may change as you approach the shore and may God Almighty grant you pleasant sailing.

If you have a question involving admiralty or maritime law, please call us at 843-883-9099 or email us for a free, confidential consultation with no obligation.

Share →

From our law office in Mount Pleasant, John Hughes Cooper, P.C. handles admiralty law and maritime law cases throughout coastal South Carolina (the Lowcountry), the Pee Dee region, communities surrounding Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, and elsewhere in the Southeast. The communities we serve include Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Georgetown, Beaufort, Hilton Head, North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Edisto Island, Walterboro, Pawley's Island, Murrells Inlet, Little River, Conway, Columbia, Florence, Charleston County, Georgetown County, Berkeley County, Beaufort County, Horry County, Jasper County and Colleton County.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

This website uses the Google AdWords remarketing service to advertise on third party websites (including Google) to previous visitors to our site. This could be in the form of an advertisement on the Google search results page, or a site in the Google Display Network. Third-party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on someone’s past visits to the John Hughes Cooper, P.C. website. Any data collected will be used in accordance with our own privacy policy and Google’s privacy policy. You can set preferences for how Google advertises to you using the Google Ad Preferences page, and if you want to you can opt out of interest-based advertising entirely by cookie settings or permanently using a browser plugin.