Baltimore Bridge ship owner invokes pre Civil War law to limit cost

The shipping company that is responsible for the collapse of the Baltimore Bridge wants to reduce its liability from $3bn to $43m (£2.41bn). It will do this by relying on a law dating back to before the US Civil War.

Baltimore authorities are engaged in a legal battle with Singaporean owners of a container ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine, shipowners, have used an antiquated maritime act to limit their liability to $43m in spite of estimated costs between $1bn to $3bn.

Before the Civil War, the arcane law was passed to limit shipowners’ liability to the value their cargo. The Baltimore ship, also known as Dali was carrying over 4,600 containers en route to China at the time it crashed into a bridge.

Four people are presumed to be dead and missing, and two people have died in the tragedy.

Baltimore City lawyers have tried to stop Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine from taking action, accusing both of negligence and saying that they should be held more responsible for the tragedy.

In legal filings from Baltimore on Monday, the Dali was accused of being “clearly unseaworthy”.

This is a setback for Lloyd’s of London, which had expected a quick resolution of their claims.

John Neal, Lloyd’s chief executive, said last month that the payout process could be smoother because the coverage is comprehensive for both the bridge and vessel.

Russell Merrett said that the legal battles had increased the uncertainty about the outcome of the case.

He said, “It’s not being resolved as crisply as suggested.” “It seemed like a fairly straightforward case. Unfortunately, it will take time to resolve the case and assign responsibility to all parties.

It took me at least five years for the final loss to be stabilised.

The Concordia is the most expensive maritime disaster of all time, although it’s expected that the Baltimore collapse will surpass this.

Inigo is among the 100 or so reinsurance companies that insure the International Group of P&I Clubs (a mutual insurance company which covers 90pc of shipping worldwide).

The Dali was insured by the International Group of P&I Clubs. Inigo, according to Mr Merrett, had minimal exposure in the Baltimore claim.

According to a spokesman from Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine, the use of the limitation mechanism is common in the maritime sector.

He claimed that the law was invoked “to allow all potential claimants who seek damages arising from the incident to submit claims in a single case” and to make it more efficient.

He refused to comment on Baltimore’s allegations of negligence, while the investigation into collapse is still ongoing.