Court orders release of vessel which crashed into Demerara Harbour Bridge

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Damages to the Demerara Harbour Bridge following the October 8 collision

The High Court has ordered that the MT Tradewind Passion, the ship that crashed into the Demerara Harbour Bridge last month causing extensive damage, be released to its owners subject to conditions. It also granted an order for limited liability of GY$245.5 million to be underwritten.

Making this order was Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln. Attorneys-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin and Donovan Rangiah represented the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) as the claimant, while the owners of the ship, the defendants, were represented by Attorney-at-Law Kamal Ramkarran.

Justice Corbin-Lincoln ordered that permission be granted for the defendant and Canama Trading, a Panamanian company that owns the ship, to argue limited liability as a defence against the property damage claims.

It was also ordered that a limitation fund be created through a letter of undertaking, in the sum of $245.5 million. The order states that once a copy of the letter of undertaking from the ship’s underwriters is received and a notice of receipt issued by the Court Registrar, the ship will be released into their custody. The original letter of undertaking by Steamship Mutual Underwriting must be lodged by November 25, 2022.

“The claimant, its servants and agents are hereby directed to allow and facilitate the defendant vessel to return to service and leave Guyana forthwith upon receipt of notice of the Constitution of the limitation fund as ordered,” the order states, going on to threaten that failure to comply with the directives will result in the party being held in contempt of court.

A letter of undertaking from Steamship Mutual and a Notice of Receipt from the Court Registrar, both dated November 11, 2022, were seen by this publication.

The October 8 collision rendered the ageing DHB structure inoperable for several days and resulted in billions of dollars in damages.

It also resulted in injuries to Shift Supervisor Andy Duke, who had to jump from the lookout tower, an act that resulted in him fracturing his leg and being 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.

Public Works Minister Juan Edghill had said that repairs to the Demerara Harbour Bridge following Tradewind Passion’s collision, had racked up a bill of over $1 billion, which the owners of the vessel will be liable for.

A Board of Inquiry (BoI) had meanwhile recommended, among other things, that the vessel’s pilot be suspended for 24 months and the implementation of International Collision Regulations/Conventions to which Guyana is a signatory.

According to the BoI, the probable cause of the collision of the vessel with the DHB was as a result of the bridge teams’ exclusive reliance on the contract pilot’s incorrect navigational direction, and their total reliance on looking at the bridge and disregarding alarms of the electronic system on the vessel as it approached the bridge.

The BoI found that the captain failed to assume command of the vessel in a timely manner and manoeuvre it safely into the channel and through the transit, that the passage plan provided adequate information for safe navigation of the bridge zone but was not properly executed and monitored, that at the time of the collision MARAD had no oversight of river pilots; hence the safety of vessels’ operations beyond the southern limits were not guaranteed.

It was also found that there was no clear path of communication on the vessel’s bridge as the inquiry found several persons were giving commands at the same time, thereby contributing to chaos on the bridge and that the vessel was not equipped with a bow thruster which could have enhanced its manoeuvrability, thereby steering it away from the DHB or alternatively reducing the impact of the collision.

The seven-member BoI further found that the contract pilot was known to have an arrogant disposition and was oftentimes very difficult to communicate with. “This is similarly reported as being the general disposition of the Master of Tradewind Passion, yet no reports nor warnings, disciplinary actions were taken against either party.”