Saturday, December 25, 2004

Wrongful death and maritime law

So...a real tragedy has occurred on this day. My uncle is a captain of some sort of barge, and early on in the wee hours of the day a terrible accident took place. Apparently, his barge moved alongside too close to a small fishing vessel, and overturned it in its wake, causing the death of 5 men on that fishing vessel. Even though my uncle was not the one actually piloting at that time, we know there's probably some issue of vicarious liability, although there is that strange twist of maritime law. Right now my uncle has been taken into custody, and we don't know what's going to happen to him.

So when I heard this, the first thing I thought of was how could my uncle avoid liability? I am very sorry that there are 5 men who died in such a sad way, but my uncle is family, and comes first. At first, I was thinking it really didn't look good for him. I asked my dad where the accident took place, whether it was close to shore or far out, since we know that different laws govern such occurrences based on where in the waters they happened. As of yet, we don't know.

But then my dad revealed something very important. The fishing vessel was trawling for anchovies, which are out-of-season right now, which means it's illegal to be fishing for them. Therefore, the next question is, did they have their lights on? If they didn't, there is a strong possibility my uncle will be absolved completely. Obviously, given the fact that the fishers knew what they were doing was illegal, it seems very likely that they didn't have their lights on since they wouldn't want to be caught. This would also explain how on earth the barge ever got so close to the fishing vessel in the first place. My uncle is very well-known in the community, and there are always offers for jobs of other vessels given to him, since he is very well-respected. Up till now, he's had an excellent record, with no blemishes. Even if he gets off the hook this time, he will turn 60 this year, and he will never be allowed to captain another vessel again. Regardless of the outcome, his career is finished.

When I've read all those other cases in school, it never occurred to me that anything like that could ever happen to me or my family. Suddenly it all seems too real. These are real people, not some stupid question on a final.

I will pray for those who lost their lives in such an unfortunate accident on Christmas day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear about this terrible accident--and also glad that your legal training is actually coming to a practical use at such early days of your career. My thoughts go to your family.