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Oil tanker’s owner sues to prevent payments to USS McCain victims’ families

Damage to the port side is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain steers toward Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21, 2017.

JOSHUA FULTON/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 19, 2018

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A company that owns the commercial oil tanker involved in a deadly collision with a Navy destroyer last year has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking not to be held liable for damages.

Ten sailors aboard the Yokosuka-based USS John S. McCain were killed in the Aug. 21 collision near Singapore.

If a judge accepts the claim, Energetic Tank Inc. would not have to pay the families of the sailors who died in the crash should they attempt to sue for compensation.

In its lawsuit, which is being addressed in New York federal court, Energetic Tank says the collision was not caused by “any fault, neglect or want of care” of its company or its tanker, the Alnic.

It also cites a passage in the Navy’s post-collision report that describes “confusion” and steering issues on the McCain in the minutes before the crash.

The suit mentions the Navy’s nonjudicial punishment of seven sailors and criminal proceedings against a McCain chief petty officer and its then-commander in connection with the collision.

Energetic Tank further asks in its lawsuit that, if found liable, that the company be made to pay only up to the amount of money the Alnic and its cargo were worth at the time of the crash: about $16.7 million.

Families of the fallen and injured sailors are filing responses to the lawsuit, asking the judge to deny Energetic Tank’s requests.

The crash was the second major deadly collision of a Navy ship in the Pacific last year. Two months earlier, the USS Fitzgerald and a civilian merchant ship collided near Yokosuka, Japan, killing seven sailors.

Navy investigations found that the collisions were “avoidable” and caused by failures in planning, training, procedures and operations. Part of that, the Navy found, was caused by the intense operational pace the fleet has maintained in recent years.

In the wake of the collisions, the Navy instituted reforms to shore up training and alertness at sea.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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