In Tesla Offshore, LLC v. International Offshore Services, LLC, the United States Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit recently considered whether a vessel pulling an underwater sonar device was engaged in towing, such that the captain of the vessel was required to have a towing license. Concluding that this was towing and that the captain’s lack of the appropriate license was known to the owner of the towing vessel, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings that a towing operation was taking place at the time of the incident.
In November 2012, Tesla Offshore, LLC was undertaking a “high-resolution
During the operation, the
A jury trial in federal court in New Orleans ultimately would award Shell $9 million in damages, and find Tesla 75% at fault and International 25% at fault.
International challenged the district court’s determination that the INTERNATIONAL THUNDER was a “towing vessel” under 46 USC § 2101. The captain of a towing vessel of 26 feet or more in length is required to hold a towing license. The district court instructed the jury that the INTERNATIONAL THUNDER was a towing vessel and that the captain did not have the requisite towing certificate. International contended that this instruction led the jury to reject its limitation defense, which would have allowed it to limit its liability pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act 46 USC §
The Fifth Circuit invited the U.S Solicitor General to opine on whether the applicable laws and regulations required the captain of the INTERNATIONAL THUNDER to have a towing license. The Solicitor General’s view was that the laws and regulations required such a license.
The Fifth Circuit noted that the U.S. Code defines a “towing vessel” as a “commercial vessel engaged in or intending to engage in the service of pulling, pushing, or hauling
The Fifth Circuit’s ruling helps clarify what constitutes towing and provides an expansive definition. Vessel owners should ensure that their captains have the requisite towing licenses if they are engaged in any activity that involves “pulling, pushing, or hauling