USS Fitzgerald collision survivors, families of those killed, sue for $287m

Survivors of the June 17th 2017 collision between the USS Fitzgerald and container ship ACX Crystal (IMO 9360611) , as well as the families of seven US Navy sailors killed, are suing Japan-based NYK Line , which chartered the ACX Crystal, for more than $287m.

Two lawsuits were filed by 47 plaintiffs on November 18th in the Eastern District of Louisiana against NYK Line. Of the plaintiffs, 40 survivors have filed one action, while seven family members of those killed have filed another.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Schloss, of Washington, D.C., said the accident caused his clients injuries, mental anguish, lost wages, pain and suffering and “pre-death fright.”

The collision in 2017 took place about 60nm southwest of Yokosuka. In its post-collision report the US Navy took responsibility for crew actions that led to the tragedy, but insisted that the “relative performance and fault of the vessels is an open [maritime] law issue.” It accepted that poor watch-standing and crew exhaustion were factors in the accident happening, but added that its investigation was restricted to the movements of the USS Fitzgerald, pointing out that “the [US] Navy is not concerned about the mistakes made by Crystal”.

Autopsies revealed that no sailors died in the immediate impact, but rather by drowning.

According to the legal action, two of Schloss’s clients had to close the berthing exit “to protect the structural integrity of the whole ship” while knowing sailors remained inside.

Schloss has claimed that nearly all of his clients were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with 11 of them having been or will in future be discharged from the Navy for disabilities they received in the collision.

A Japan Transport Safety Board report earlier this year identified key factors that contributed to the collision, but the report did not place blame on either party.

That report also listed some faults with the USS Fitzgerald, but added that the ACX Crystal’s crew should have done more to prevent the collision.

The board’s report said that the ACX Crystal crew “expected that the USS Fitzgerald would recognize them and avoid, and for this reason did not change its course or speed before the collision. It also failed to sound a horn to properly warn the Fitzgerald of the impending danger.

“When [a] vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of other vessels, or there is doubt that other vessels are taking sufficient action to avoid a collision, warning signals shall be sounded,” said a translated copy of the Japan report.

The sailors are not pursuing legal action against the Navy; US law prevents service members from suing the government for injuries sustained while in the service of duty.

Schloss said that US courts could have jurisdiction over the case because NYK has a large global network that includes the US.

2008-built, Philippines-flagged, 29,060 gt ACX Crystal is owned by Olympic Steamship Co SA care of Sea Quest Ship management Inc of Manila, Philippines. ISM manager is Taiyo Sangyo Trading & Marine of Yokohama, Japan. It is entered with Japan Club (Tokyo Office in charge) on behalf of Olympic Steamship Co.