One year later, McCain sailors and families locked in legal battle with oil tanker owner

The destroyer John S. McCain moored pier side at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, following an Aug. 21, 2017, collision with an oil tanker that killed 10 sailors. (Grady T. Fontana/Navy) A year after 10 sailors died when the destroyer John S. McCain lurched left into a commercial vessel outside Singapore, a legal battle rages over who was responsible for the collision and who should pay for it.

So far, 48 McCain sailors and families of the fallen have filed personal injury and wrongful death claims against the owner of the Alnic MC, a hulking oil tanker that collided with the warship inside the bustling Malacca Straits on Aug. 21, 2017, according to federal court records.

Their claims total “well in excess of $60 million,” attorneys for Alnic’s owner, Energetic Tank, Inc., wrote in court filings.

At the same time, the U.S. government is pursuing its own claim against the Alnic’s owners for the McCain’s damages. The company seeks similar damages from the federal government.

Court filings indicate the Liberian-flagged Alnic suffered about $300,000 in collision damage, but the shipping company’s attorneys predict the costs to mend the McCain could rise to $100 million, a figure federal attorneys haven’t repeated in their motions.

Instead they’ve concentrated on what they say are a long list of seamanship failures by the Alnic’s crew.

They failed to keep proper lookouts, lacked trained mariners on the bridge in congested waters, never communicated with the McCain and at no time sounded a danger signal, veered away from the warship or followed the international rules of maritime transit, filings contend.

Armed with the Navy’s own reports into the collision and information gleaned from ongoing court-martial proceedings against several of the McCain’s crew, Energetic Tank’s attorneys say fault really lies with the Americans.

“We have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are against the McCain and the competence of the crew,” said Lawrence Brennan , a retired Navy captain, military attorney and professor at the Fordham University School of Law in New York. “Those are all locked in the criminal proceedings.”

“We then get into what the Alnic could have done, should have done, to avoid the collision,” he said.

That collision killed Chief Electronics Technician Charles N. Findley, Chief Interior Communications Electrician Abraham Lopez, Electronics Technician 1st Class Kevin S. Bushell, Information Systems 1st Class Corey G. Ingram, Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob D. Drake, Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Timothy T. Eckels, Electronics Technician Dustin L. Doyon, Electronics Technician 2nd Class John H. Hoagland, Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Logan S. Palmer and Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kenneth A. Smith.

Assessing how to apportion the blame for their deaths and the damages to both vessels will be key to resolving the legal battle, Brennan said.

One complaint filed on behalf of Operations Specialist 1st Class Navin Ramdhun and his wife indicates he was trapped in a vessel compartment for more than two hours after the collision and feared he would die.The filing revealed that Ramdhun suffered injuries to his legs and face, a fractured arm […]

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