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Nov 10, 2009

Owners of cargo ship accept liability for damage to reef

Story PictureIt’s been ten months since the Westerhaven crashed into the reef, causing substantive damages. Since then two other ships, the CaribeMariner and the Azteca also ran into the reef. Azteca settled out of court, but today lawyers for the government and for the Westerhaven argued before Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh. Deanne Barrow is representing the government, while Michael Young is representing the owners of the ship. The Westerhaven admitted responsibility this morning and the lawyers are battling over what amount will be paid to the government. Jose Sanchez sat in court and has this story.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
The Westerhaven ran aground on the reef near Caye Glory on January thirteenth. The shipping vessel pulverized over six thousand square meters of corals and caused sustained damage to a wider area. Though the case continues tomorrow, a major victor has been won by the government as owners of the Westerhaven accepted responsibility for damaging the reef.

Jose Sanchez
“Essentially your clients accept liability?”

Michael Young, Attorney, Owners of the Westerhaven
“Yes. Yes. That is the position that this is really a case of quantum and the law in relation to that quantum.”

The government’s attorneys called several witnesses and tomorrow they will hear testimony from U.S. based environmental experts.

Deanne Barrow, Prosecutor
“The grounding of the Westerhaven has caused severe ecological and environmental damage to the reef. It ran over a section of about six thousand square meters of reef. The case is going well because right before trial the defense conceded liability, so that’s half of the case gone and the issues now are very narrow.”

Jose Sanchez
“The experts you are bringing tomorrow. Who are they and what will they do?”

Deanne Barrow
“The experts are from a team of experts in Florida, Team W, and they will do a habitat equivalence analysis. They worked along with the D.O.E. and the fisheries environment to come up with the parameters to put into this scientific technique called Habitat Equivalence Analysis. And so they are coming to testify as to their bit.”

On January fourteenth, the day after the Westerhaven grounded on the reef, Marine Biologist Melanie McField of Healthy Reefs Initiatives, took her camera underwater to record the damage of the area which is seven hundred feet away from the spawning site of Nassau Groupers. McField testified on behalf of the government.

Melanie McField, Marine Biologist
“It was just a report on the damage assessment that we had conducted at the site after right after the Westerhaven came in and I entered the video tape into testimony. So the judge was able to look at the video and see the damage and discuss how we prepared the first preliminary report.”

Jose Sanchez
“The core area of damage and the periphery; what are the two amounts and what is the total you estimated it would come to?”

Melanie McField
“Well, I think that part is gonna come out in the trial tomorrow. So I think it’s better to wait on that. Because the preliminary assessment that we did, someone came in later, the experts that are specializing in resource damage injury assessment, they came in with some better equipment and they did another survey. So they are coming in tomorrow to present their numbers and that is the number the claim will be based on, it’s eighteen million U.S.”

Though the damage may be estimated at eighteen million U.S. dollars, defense attorney Michael Young says that his clients should only pay two million U.S. dollars.

Michael Young
“There is a convention that was adopted in 1976. It’s called a limitation of liability for maritime leans. And what that basically says is ship owners, charterers, operators, managers of ships are protected when there is an accident in a country, which is a party to the treaty and so that the maximum damages that can be awarded against them once the convention applies is set by the convention. So that is what it means. In this case our clients who are the owners of the ship and also the charterers of the ship are saying they are entitled to have their liability; that there is a ceiling on it under that convention.”

Keith Swift
“And what is that ceiling?”

Michael Young
“The ceiling we have calculated is around two million U.S. dollars.”

Jose Sanchez
“If you go by the 1996 charter how much would that take it to if the judge doesn’t grant limited liability?”

Michael Young
“What you are referring to is what they call the 1996 protocol, which amended the 1976 convention. And the calculation is something around four point five million U.S. if you use that particular protocol.”

Jose Sanchez
“Mister Young is using the 1976 treaty as part of his defense of limited liability. How strong or weak is that?”

Deanne Barrow
“Well, I want to say that it will be decided by the court. I have confidence in my case. The treaty exists and we will hear the legal arguments tomorrow on that.”

Michael Young
“If you don’t have these limits applying then it could affect shipping and it could affect international trade because when a company sends a ship to a jurisdiction they need to know that their liability is limited otherwise, as a matter of fact, a claim could result in the loss of the ship and it could affect insurance rates and that could result in a prejudicial effect to shipping to that country.”

Whatever the outcome of the case, it raises the question of which should have more legislative protection, the shipping industry or the reef. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

When the ship was detained, its captain Fritz Shroeder abandoned the ship and has not been heard from since then.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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