El Faro owner asks for court protection from legal actions

Tote Services Inc, owner of the ill-fated El Faro cargo ship that sank off Bermuda on October 1st near the eye of the Hurricane Joaquin, has filed for protection from legal claims regarding its liability for the deaths of the ship’s 33 crewmembers.

The company filed for exoneration from or limitation of liability in U.S. district court in Jacksonville, Florida, on Friday.

Tote claims that it had “exercised due diligence” to ensure the 40-year-old vessel was seaworthy, properly manned and well-equipped for its September 29 trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and should therefore be “exonerated from liability for any and all losses or damages sustained during the voyage … and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may hereafter be made.”

The move comes following the fourth lawsuit launched last week by the family members of one of the victims.

The family of Anthony Shawn Thomas, one of the 33 crew members who died or are presumed dead after the sinking, filed the lawsuit against Sea Star Line, Tote Maritime and Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, Tote Inc., Tote Services Inc., Intec Maritime Offshore Services Corp., and Ship Or Land Operations Agency, Inc.

Arnold & Itkin LLP, a Houston-based law firm representing the family, said it “believes the defendants knew the El Faro was an aged and ailing vessel with structural problems and with a history of taking on water. The defendants knew, allowed, and encouraged the El Faro to leave port knowing the potential dangers that lay ahead of the hurricane.”

Meanwhile, a search team on board the USNS Apache has found the wreckage of a vessel that they believe to be the cargo ship El Faro. The vessel was located at a depth of about 15,000 feet in the vicinity of the last known position.

To confirm the finding, specialists on Apache will use CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle, to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage. This survey could begin on Sunday, November 1, National Transportation Safety Board said on Saturday.

“If the vessel is confirmed to be El Faro, CURVE-21, outfitted with a video camera will start the documentation of the vessel and the debris field and attempt to locate and recover the voyage data recorder. Those operations are expected to take up to 15 days to complete in ideal conditions but could take longer depending on weather and conditions encountered during the documentation process,” NTSB said.