Oil tanker owner ordered to pay $44.6m over fatal US Navy destroyer crash

Forty-one wrongful death or personal injury claims were filed

Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The USS John S. McCain was docked at Singapore's naval base with "significant damage" to its hull after an early morning collision with the Alnic MC as vessels from several nations searched Monday for missing U.S. sailors. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/U.S. Navy photo via AP)
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A judge said on Wednesday that the owner of an oil tanker must pay the US $44.6 million over its role in a 2017 collision with an American naval destroyer in South-East Asia that killed 10 sailors and injured dozens more.

US District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan found Energetic Tank Inc 20 per cent responsible and the US 80 per cent responsible for the collision between the 39,000-tonne Alnic tanker and the USS John S McCain.

Both vessels had been cruising alongside each other when the McCain, a guided-missile destroyer nearing Singapore for a routine port call, veered left.

Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency officer talks about the area of the search and rescue operations for missing personnel of USS John McCain in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Reuters

The bow of the Alnic pierced the McCain's broadside, causing the destroyer to flood.

Energetic Tank, which court papers say has an office in Monrovia, Liberia, sought to hold the US responsible for the collision, which caused damage of $185m to the McCain and $442,445 to the Alnic.

The US conceded that the McCain bore some blame, but said that the Alnic also played a role. Mr Crotty ruled after a non-jury trial last November.

The $44.6m includes interest.

In the absence of objections, a second trial will apportion the money to victims and their families, the judge said. Forty-one wrongful death or personal injury claims were filed.

Neither lawyers for Energetic Tank nor the US Department of Justice immediately responded to requests for comment.

Paul Hofmann, a lawyer for some of the claimants, said the "well-considered" decision will prove "some level of recompense" for sailors and families who suffered grievous injuries.

In 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause of the collision was "a lack of effective operational oversight of the destroyer by the US Navy, which resulted in insufficient training and inadequate bridge operating procedures”. It recommended several safety measures.

Updated: June 16, 2022, 7:01 PM