United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
DIXIE MARINE, INC.
Q JAKE M/V, ET AL.
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
J. BARBIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
litigation arises out of a mooring incident at the Andry
Street wharf on January 26, 2016, involving Defendant M/V Q
JAKE (“Q JAKE”) and Plaintiff Dixie Marine, Inc.
(“Dixie Marine”). Dixie Marine sued the Q JAKE
in rem claiming the vessel negligently damaged Dixie
Marine's wharf while attempting to dock. The Q JAKE
responded by asserting a negligence counterclaim against
Court held a bench trial on July 17 and 18, 2017, and took
the matter under advisement. Having considered all the
evidence and counsels' arguments, the Court issues the
following findings of fact and conclusions of law in
accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). To the
extent any of the following findings of fact constitute
conclusions of law, they are adopted as such. To the extent
any of the following conclusions of law constitute findings
of fact, they are adopted as such.
Dixie Marine, is a ship repair business that leases the Andry
Street wharf, located on the Mississippi River in New
Orleans, Louisiana, from the Port of New Orleans
M/V Q JAKE, is owned by Q JAKE Shipping Ltd, which entered a
restricted appearance on behalf of the vessel under Rule E of
the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime
Q JAKE/Andry Street Wharf Incident
JAKE is a 750 foot bulk cargo carrier. The Q JAKE's
deadweight tonnage capacity (DWT) - i.e., the maximum weight
of cargo, stores, fuel, etc. the vessel can safely carry - is
82, 188 metric tonnes (MT). When fully loaded, the Q JAKE
displaces (i.e., weighs) 94, 590 MT. Unladen, the Q JAKE
displaces approximately 12, 400 MT.
January 20, 2016, the Q JAKE completed loading a cargo of
soybeans at the ADM Terminal in Reserve, Louisiana. After
loading, the Q JAKE displaced approximately 75, 000 MT and
drew over 40 feet. The Mississippi River was high at this
time and near flood stage with strong currents.
approximately 12:37 p.m., while heading down bound on the
Mississippi River, the Q JAKE collided with drifting barges
that had broken away from the United Bulk Terminal Facility.
The collision punctured the Q JAKE's hull, near the port
bow. The Q JAKE anchored at Magnolia anchorage where it
awaited the United States Coast Guard and assessed the
JAKE contracted with Boland Marine & Industrial, LLC
(“Boland”) to perform the hull repairs.
Boland's wharf was full, so Boland coordinated verbally
with Dixie Marine for the use of the Andry Street wharf.
Andry Street wharf is a T-head type pier consisting of an
approach roadway that runs perpendicular to the shoreline and
a main pier platform that runs parallel to the shoreline. The
wharf is approximately 900 feet long.
the riverside edge of the wharf are thirteen (13) fifty-ton
(50T) bollards, spaced approximately sixty (60) feet apart.
Bollards are used to moor and secure a vessel to a wharf or
other structure. For the purposes of trial, the bollards
were numbered consecutively beginning with bollard no. 1 on
the furthest upriver portion of the wharf and ending with
bollard no. 13 on the furthest downriver portion. Each
mooring bollard is attached to the underlying dock
substructure with four one-inch diameter anchor bolts.
wharf is composed of two main sections pertinent to the
issues in this case: (1) the upriver work platform and (2)
the main wharf platform. The upriver work platform,
containing bollards nos. 1 and 2, is approximately 100 feet
long and is connected to the main wharf platform by a
walkway. The main wharf platform is 560 feet long and
supports bollards nos. 3 through 13.
January 26, 2016, the Mississippi River was at a height of
16.38 feet on the Carrollton Gage, which was near flood
stage. At 7:34 a.m. that same day, the Q JAKE left Magnolia
anchorage and proceeded to the Andry Street wharf. At 11:45
a.m., compulsory pilot Steven Vogt (“Pilot Vogt”)
took command of the vessel.
the command of Pilot Vogt, the Q JAKE attempted to dock at
the Andry Street wharf with the assistance of two tugs, the
J.K. MCLEAN and the MIRIAM COOPER. The J.K. MCLEAN is a
Z-drive propulsion tractor tug with a rated horsepower of 5,
360. The MIRIAM COOPER is a twin screw conventional tug with
a rated horsepower of 4, 200. Pilot Vogt positioned the J.K.
MCLEAN on Q JAKE's bow and the MIRIAM COOPER on Q
approximately 1:45 p.m., the first mooring line went out to
the wharf. The Q JAKE's bow was facing upriver near
bollard no. 1 and its stern near bollard no. 13. At the
direction of Pilot Vogt via VHS radio, line handlers began
tying the mooring lines to bollards nos. 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, and
p.m., bollard no. 7 failed but remained partially attached to
the wharf. The Q JAKE's aft spring line also parted and
the Q JAKE shifted off the wharf.
the strong current pushing the bow off the wharf, Pilot Vogt
called in additional tug assistance. The ANGUS R. COOPER
arrived to assist at 2:31 p.m. and the CAPT. JIMMY T MORAN
(“JIMMY T”) arrived at 2:55 p.m.
the first mooring attempt, Walter Haley, a Boland employee,
informed Dixie Marine's Vice President of Operations,
Robbie Dendinger, of the damage to bollard no. 7. Dendinger
arrived at the wharf as the Q JAKE was making its second
p.m., the Q JAKE was parallel against the wharf with all four
tugs in position to commence mooring operations.
p.m., all twelve lines were secure to bollards nos. 1, 2, 3,
6, 9, and 13 with two lines to each bollard. Pilot Vogt then
released the JIMMY T and Dendinger departed the wharf. Three
tugs, the ANGUS COOPER, the J.K. MCLEAN, and the MIRIAM
COOPER, remained to assist the Q JAKE.
p.m., the forward bollards nos. 1 and 2 failed and ripped
completely off the wharf and the Q JAKE came off the wharf by
after the second failed attempt, the Q JAKE's master and
Pilot Vogt agreed to abandon the mooring at the Andry Street
wharf. The Q JAKE temporarily berthed without incident at the
Alabo Street wharf from 6:10 p.m. until 7:20 p.m. using the
same three tugs, the J.K MCLEAN, the MIRIAM COOPER, and the
ANGUS R. COOPER. Around 8:00 p.m., the Q JAKE moved to the
Poland Avenue wharf, again using the same three tugs. Both
the Alabo Street and Poland Avenue wharfs are in close
proximity to the Andry Street wharf and are equipped with the
same 50T bollards.
Q JAKE's Mooring Operations at the Andry Street
time of the incident on January 26, 2016, the Q JAKE's
crew was sufficiently rested in compliance with 46 CFR
Court finds that the Q JAKE was equipped with and properly
utilized sufficient mooring equipment for a vessel of its
size during high river conditions. There was no evidence of
the crew mishandling or improperly securing the lines. Twelve
lines, two lines per bollard, is the industry standard,
reasonable under the circumstances, and should have been
sufficient to hold the Q JAKE in place at the Andry Street
wharf in high river conditions. The Q JAKE used 17 mooring lines
at the Poland Avenue wharf merely out of an abundance of
caution. Both parties' experts acknowledged that a line
should typically part before a dock bollard is
Marine claims that the sudden parting of the stern lines
created sudden shock loads (i.e. loads shifting from one line
to the other) which caused the vessel's weight to shift
upriver and the vessel's lines to rip the bollards from
the wharf. Dixie Marine's theory of the incident
relied heavily on the testimony of Walter Haley, a Boland
employee and eyewitness to the mooring attempts. Haley
testified that on both attempts the sudden parting of stern
lines caused the Q JAKE's stern to swing out, which in
turn exerted excessive force on the other bollards. Haley
also testified that the Q JAKE used only six lines on its
first attempt, and twelve on the second. Haley stated that he
witnessed approximately 150 vessel berthings per year.
Although Haley claimed that this incident in particular was
more memorable than others, the Court finds his testimony
unconvincing in light of other objective evidence directly
contradicting his testimony and Dixie Marine's theory.
Specifically, the MRTIS video shows that the vessel's bow -
not its stern - swung out from the wharf on both attempts.
Court also finds the Q JAKE's experts more credible and
their conclusions more persuasive. In particular, the Court is
persuaded by the testimony and report of the Q JAKE's
mooring and navigation expert, Captain Maurice Ryan, who
testified that although the mooring lines had a breaking load
of 89 tonnes, shock loads could not be a significant factor
to the bollards' failure because the elasticity of the
mooring lines and the rendering point of the mooring winch
brakes would minimize shock loads.
Court finds that the Q JAKE was not obligated to utilize
additional tugs on its mooring attempts. Pilot Vogt is an
experienced Mississippi River pilot having piloted several
vessels of the same size and draught as the Q JAKE under
similar high river conditions. Based on his seventeen years of
experience and taking into account the river conditions as
well as the condition of the Q JAKE, Pilot Vogt felt that two
tugs, one of which was a Z-drive propulsion tractor tug, was
appropriate under the circumstances for the first mooring
attempt. Pilot Vogt testified that tractor tugs are
particularly useful and efficient due to their increased
horsepower and maneuverability. The Court again finds the
testimony and report of the Q JAKE's expert, Captain
Maurice Ryan, particularly compelling. Captain Ryan, who has
berthed similar sized vessels many times in the Mississippi
River, including in high river conditions, stated that Pilot
Vogt's discretion for utilizing two tugs during the first
mooring attempt was the industry standard for that size
vessel under those river conditions. Captain Ryan also
confirmed that it was proper for Pilot Vogt to position the
stronger, more capable tractor tug, the J.K. MCLEAN, on the
bow of the vessel. Pilot Vogt testified that he and the Q
JAKE's master were in constant communication with one
another and that throughout the mooring attempts, the master
never expressed any concern over the number of tugs. He also
stated that there were no issues with the tug captains or
line handlers following his commands.
Marine's navigation expert, Captain Scruton, who has
never berthed a vessel in the Mississippi River as a master,
testified that two tugs were insufficient for the Q JAKE
during high river conditions. However, Captain Scruton drew
this conclusion based only on the number of tugs and without
considering their respective horsepower. The Court agrees
with Captain Ryan's testimony that consideration of the
capabilities of the tugs and not just the number of them is
paramount in forming an opinion on this issue.
the first attempt was unsuccessful, Pilot Vogt promptly
called for additional tug assistance before he made another
attempt. After all lines were secure, Pilot Vogt released one
of the four tugs. Captain Ryan's report stated that this
was reasonable and in line with the industry standard for a
pilot. Bollards nos. 1 and 2 failed thirty minutes after the
JIMMY T departed, despite the fact that all lines were secure
and three tugs were assisting the Q JAKE. Furthermore, the
same three tugs were used to dock the Q JAKE at the Poland
and Alabo Street wharves and did so without incident.
Accordingly, the Court finds the decision to release the
forth tug after the second mooring attempt was not
of the Andry Street Wharf
Marine has operated the Andry Street wharf since the 1960s
when it was a timber structure. Under its lease with the
Port, Dixie Marine is responsible for all maintenance and
repairs of the wharf and for keeping it in a safe condition
for its intended purpose of berthing vessels. Dixie Marine
has made repairs to the wharf over the years by adding
various reinforcements with steel and concrete.
upriver work platform, containing bollards nos. 1 and 2, has
a four to five inch thick concrete deck supported by steel
piles. The upriver work platform is connected to the main
wharf platform by a steel and concrete walkway.
main wharf platform supports bollards nos. 3 through 13. The
furthest downriver section of the main platform (i.e.,
approximately bollards nos. 8 through 13) is constructed with
steel piles and a concrete deck, similar to the upriver work
platform. However, the other portion of the main wharf
platform (i.e., approximately bollards nos. 3 through 7)
still has elements of the wharf's original timber
structure. Specifically, beneath the concrete deck and above
the steel piles, the substructure contains timber cap beams
and timber stringers. In between the main wharf platform and
the shore is a timber deck area which was structurally
segregated from the main wharf area in 2015 due to its
excessively deteriorated condition.
2008, Dixie Marine has conducted three repair projects
relating to the wharf's structure totaling $433, 125.00.
For each repair project at Dixie Marine, local engineer Don
Barnes of Barnes Engineering Company, Inc. (“Barnes
Engineering”) provided the specifications, the Port
approved and permitted the repairs, and contractor Durward
Dunn, Inc. performed the repairs.
first repair project was in 2009 when Dixie Marine repaired
some damaged piles and concrete after a towing vessel allided
with the upriver work platform. The project cost $229,
2012, a vessel moored at Andry Street wharf and ripped off
bollard no. 4. Dixie Marine did not replace bollard no. 4
before the Q JAKE incident.
fire at the wharf in 2013, the Port became aware of the
unsafe condition of the timber substructure and circulated a
memorandum documenting that the main wharf substructure and
the approach ramp were found to be “in such poor
structural condition because of age and rot that the timber
substructure has failed, ” that “it is highly
probable that additional substructure will collapse without
warning, ” and the conditions “present a threat
of loss of life and/or destruction of additional
infrastructure.”The memorandum also documents that the
Port notified Dixie Marine of its findings.
2013, Dixie Marine conducted its second repair project to
address the fire damage along the mid-fender line of the main
platform. The project cost $127, 000.00 and included
inter alia replacing the ...